Partnership with Memphis Bioworks Continues to Pay Dividends

Partnership with Memphis Bioworks Continues to Pay Dividends

Five years ago, Mid-South Community College began cultivating a relationship with the Memphis Bioworks Foundation, and the resulting partnership continues to pay great dividends for our students, our institution, and our region.

It all started in June 2009 with an invitation to Dr. Steven J. Bares, president/executive director of the organization, to speak at a Distinguished Lecture Series event at MSCC. As we listened to his presentation, we understood very quickly that a long-term partnership would be of significant benefit to everyone in the room.

Founded in 2001, the not-for-profit organization focuses its energies on creating and nurturing alliances between public, private, academic, and government entities to catalyze economic development in health care, logistics, and emerging technology. Memphis Bioworks has become the area’s “go-to” organization for creating companies, jobs, and investments in bioscience and sustainability. Their approach obviously interconnects with the College’s mission, and we welcomed the opportunity to join hands with our friends across the river.

Less than a year after that fortuitous meeting of the minds, Memphis Bioworks received a $2.9 million Energy Training Partnership Grant under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Green Jobs Training Program. Mid-South Community College shared in the grant designed to establish or enhance programs to train area workers for jobs in energy-efficiency and renewable energy occupations.

While proceeds from that grant helped us advance our training efforts, we soon found ourselves too far ahead of the curve in the renewable energy realm. We could certainly prepare workers for those jobs, but our region had not yet attracted enough of the requisite “green” businesses and industries to provide jobs for our graduates.

We have since found, however, that the very same educational principles and technological skills needed to produce alternative fuel can be applied in many different areas including hydraulics; chemical, food and beverage production; pharmaceuticals; power generation; pulp and paper; refining, and waste water treatment. Trained technicians are in high demand for companies producing everything from ice cream to bread to paint. And more importantly for us and our constituents, thousands of those jobs are available in the Memphis metropolitan region today.

Through a recent partnership with Southwest Tennessee Community College, we are continuing to develop and refine the program. We’re taking the best of what they have and are mixing it with the best of what we have.

When the process control curriculum is offered to anybody in eastern Arkansas, western Tennessee, or northwest Mississippi, it is being offered in a partnership between the two community colleges. We understand the futility of competing against each other and are playing smarter instead.

And Memphis Bioworks is once again a major contributor to the effort. The Southern Employment and Training Consortium-Bio/IT project, spearheaded by Memphis Bioworks, recently received notification of an $8 million U.S. Department of Labor grant as part of the Ready to Work Partnership. The initiative supports innovative collaborations between employers, nonprofit organizations, and federal job training programs to help connect ready-to-work Americans with ready-to-be-filled jobs.

Mid-South Community College is among the educational/training partners included in the tri-state effort, and our institution will receive $464,228 over a four-year span to put all of the pieces of our Process Control Technology program together. Our goal is to train a minimum of 70 highly-skilled technicians who can fill good-paying, 21st century jobs in our region.

Almost every major production entity in the world has some sort of process control protocol in their facility/factory. With the help of our partners in Memphis, we’re addressing a documented need and giving students another career opportunity that features a sustainable wage and a rewarding work environment.

MSCC Participates in TAACCCT Grant — Again

MSCC Participates in TAACCCT Grant — Again

The final round of President Barack Obama’s Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) initiative included a familiar name as a grantee – Mid-South Community College. In the four years of the program, our institution has received funding each time, including twice as either the lead entity or the sole awardee.

Our educational partners are different this time – Southwest Tennessee Community College, the William R. Moore College of Technology, and the Tennessee College of Applied Technology – but our goal remains the same. We are doing everything possible to create and sustain world-class education opportunities that lead directly to financially-rewarding jobs in the Mid-South.

The $9.8 million grant announced by Vice President Joe Biden on Sept. 29 is yet another demonstration of divine intervention that continues to give us hope for the future. The financial resources from this latest windfall will help our consortium – the Greater Memphis Alliance for a Competitive Workforce (GMACW) – address many long-standing issues and challenges we face in meeting the needs of current and future employers.

The GMACW is the result of a year-long collaboration and planning process that included the aforementioned colleges, the Memphis Economic Development Growth Engine (EDGE), the Chairmen’s Circle (106 Greater Memphis employers), the Memphis Workforce Investment Network, the Greater Memphis Chamber, Leadership Memphis, Memphis Bioworks Foundation, and multiple education, non-profit, and community-based organizations.

That focused collaboration helped the Alliance secure this very significant award which gives our institutions an amazing opportunity to continue our work to strategically invest in educational programs that ultimately lead to great jobs for our students in high-wage, high-skill occupations.

In many ways, the latest grant will be a continuation and extension of what Mid-South Community College has have been able to accomplish with previous awards – the development of articulated education pathways which deliver the competency-based, stacked, and latticed third-party credentials recognized by business and industry. The specific career focus of the TAACCT 4 award is Advanced Manufacturing and Transportation, Distribution, and Logistics, with a vision to expand into additional sectors in the future.

We’re pursuing a variety of training delivery methods, most of which will run quite contrary to the traditional higher education model of classroom lectures. We plan to establish industry-relevant training approaches that can help students obtain employable skills in the short term (less than six months) while also giving them the opportunity to pursue additional post-secondary certificates. The overall goal of TAACCCT programs is to deliver education and career training programs that can be completed in two years or less.

The Alliance will also leverage its numerous existing relationships with public workforce agency partners at the state and local level. The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services, the Workforce Investment Network of Memphis, the Workforce Investment Board of Eastern Arkansas, and American Job Centers are all involved in our efforts and will be vital to our success. Our employer partners include MicroPort Orthopedics, Cargill Inc. Medical Machining Specialists, Smith & Nephew, Wepfer Marine Inc., Empire Express Inc., and Nike, to name a few, and their input will be invaluable.

The TAACCCT 4 grant has provided us resources that we can use as a powerful tool to expand partner and employer engagement that is specifically aligned with the region’s economic development agenda.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said it best when talking about the initiative. “This program is not about tinkering; it’s about transformation. This is not about getting more students to enroll; it’s about getting more students to graduation day and into good jobs.”

FedEx Lends Financial Support, Credibility to Aviation Program

FedEx Lends Financial Support, Credibility to Aviation Program

One of the things that we fortunately have the pleasure of saying quite often at our institution is “if you ever wonder if God still works miracles, just come hang out at Mid-South Community College.” The recent announcement by FedEx Express of a $250,000 gift toward construction of a new aviation technology facility is another instance of amazing things happening to an institution that continues to partner with great folks while doing the right things for the right reasons in the right ways.

Four years ago, FedEx supported our efforts to establish an FAA-certified Aviation Maintenance Technology, and the company continues to demonstrate its long-term commitment, most recently with a quarter-million dollar donation. By virtue of their generosity, the “FedEx Aviation Technology Center” will dramatically increase the number of students we can train for the high-tech, high-demand profession.

The only way we’ve been able to make it to this point is the partnership that exists with FedEx. We couldn’t have created the new training models and certainly would have been unable to garner the external funds we have secured without their guidance and vision. If we hadn’t had that partnership and relationship – and really the push — from FedEx to more clearly understand their needs for the future, we certainly would not be where we are today.

The aviation maintenance program content — understanding exactly what employers need to be profitable — is one of the most difficult pieces of any training model. I can assure you that FedEx has demonstrated its leadership time and time again by blazing a trail for us to make certain that we produce exactly the skills sets that they, as well as other companies like them, need.

The concept of exposing people to world-class training and then empowering them to pursue great career opportunities is not something that has escaped the leadership at FedEx. Their vision, not just about their own needs but about the needs of the entire industry across the globe, has been the most important piece of this process. Without that, we would be no different than any number of other places around the country with good intentions but not necessarily a great plan.

It’s great to have an airframe and powerplant program on our campus. It’s also really neat that we are able to partner with our local school districts to start young people on that process very early in their educational careers. We’ve been blessed with a number of grants that have accelerated this process, and certainly the creation of a new facility in our community to support that ongoing effort has been seminal as well. But there’s absolutely nothing in this entire conversation any more exciting than having the program AND a new facility with a FedEx logo affixed to it. This is a tremendously significant step forward for us and takes our program to new level of credibility.

 

The donation is much more powerful than anyone can imagine. Certainly, FedEx’s stamp of approval of our program is invaluable. The overall impact of what their contribution does to galvanize the relationship between our institution and a world-class company is something you can’t begin to quantify by dollars and cents. Their support is allowing the College to create a tremendous platform for our students to be able to move themselves into amazing career opportunities. It’s not every day that a community college has the opportunity to partner with a world-class company.

At the end of the day, our job is to be able to help students find great job opportunities. We are very grateful to and certainly very humbled by FedEx’s continued investments in those efforts. FedEx has demonstrated great faith in our program, and they are clearly determined to serve as an engaged and generous corporate citizen to forge a stronger future for all of us.

Constitution Day Provides Opportunity for Reflection

Constitution Day Provides Opportunity for Reflection

While it doesn’t come with the fanfare of Independence Day or with a day off like Memorial Day, Constitution Day provides a great opportunity to reflect on our nation’s earlier times.

Constitution Day celebrates and commemorates the culmination of about three months’ worth of arguing, fussing, and fighting with the signing of the U.S. Constitution on September 17, 1787. One participant called its passage “little short of a miracle,” and some thought the historic document would never last. George Washington was even heard to say something to the effect that it wouldn’t survive two decades. That just goes to prove that even great leaders can be mistaken.

At Mid-South Community College and many other educational institutions across the country, Constitution Day is a time of voter registration drives, special presentations, essay contests, spirited discussions and debate, and a variety of other events designed to focus our attention on an amazingly simple but powerful document.

This year, our institution hosted a discussion about the first and second amendments with distinguished panel members Mike Stephenson, Thomas Young, and Rachael Vaughn – all practicing attorneys in Crittenden County (Vaughn is also an adjunct instructor at the College). MSCC’s own Mark McClellan, who serves as Lead Faculty for our History/Social Science department, moderated the event. The rights to freedom of speech and to bear arms are two of the most cherished privileges we enjoy, yet they have been known to spark some of the most fervent debate of any of the Bill of Rights.

In addition to the finer points of law related to the first two amendments, panelists talked about the Constitution’s history, discussed its fluidity, shared some little-known facts, and offered some differing opinions on the various interpretations and how they have evolved through the years. The presenters did a great job connecting with students about the dynamic nature of the document which guides our country.

Here is some of what the students learned:

  • The U.S. Constitution is the shortest written constitution of any major country in the world at around 4,500 words.
  • Of the original 13 states, only three of them passed the Constitution unanimously. Four states passed it with the slimmest of majorities.
  • The document includes several misspellings.
  • The Constitution was initially just an experiment – it had never been tried before. The framers were not even sure it was going to work. They had compromised with each other so much that none of them was entirely happy with the final version. And yet it’s been copied repeatedly by other governments (as many as 100).
  • At the time it was penned, the median age in America was 16. Nineteen of every 20 citizens lived on their own land, and 70% of them were farmers.

The U.S. Department of Education requires that public institutions provide yearly educational programs related to Constitution Day, but that isn’t our overriding motivation for providing enrichment activities. We do because it’s something we are convicted to do to enlighten our students and ourselves.

In spite of all their disagreements and maybe even a few misgivings, our founding fathers created an incredible document that has stood the test of time. It was no small matter to develop guidelines that provide balance and freedom while acknowledging federal and state interests and espousing the rights of individuals. The Constitution consists of only four hand-written pages, but it stands alone as a user’s guide to the best form of government known to man.

Legislative Panel Meets at MSCC, Eyes Workforce Education

Legislative Panel Meets at MSCC, Eyes Workforce Education

The Joint Performance Review Committee of the Arkansas Legislature met Sept. 16 at MSCC for a first-hand look at our workforce training model with an eye toward replicating it across the state. The meeting gave us a golden opportunity to highlight employment-relevant programs and training efforts at Arkansas Delta colleges.

For those who may not know, the JPRC consists of 10 state senators and 20 state representatives. The committee has the authority and responsibility for periodic performance reviews of governmental programs and agencies to assure they are in accordance with legislative intent and are providing taxpayers with the greatest service at the lowest reasonable cost. The panel also makes reports and recommendations to the governor, the General Assembly, and the Legislative Council to promote more effective and efficient operation of state government.

We certainly appreciate the work this committee is doing to bring attention to workforce-related issues. The skills-gap crisis that we hear so much about represents great opportunities, particularly for states with less-than-robust economies to reinvent their future. The states that embrace that need for change — some might even say radical change — are the ones that will move forward economically in the next decade. The states that don’t, unfortunately, are going to get left further behind.

Interestingly, the solution is really not all that complex — we need morphing. As soon as we figure out there is a very simple way to cause those morphs to occur, we’re going to find out the solutions aren’t very complicated. But if we continue to wander around and act as if we have to unearth and decipher some sort of secret code, our problems aren’t going away.

To put it simply, we need to get back to doing what we did to become the greatest economy and the greatest form of government in the world. We need to remember our great human assets and change how we think about educating folks. Somewhere along the line, we lost focus of what education is supposed to do. Although we were well intended, we lost our way because we’re continually trying to create some kind utopian educational existence for everybody.

The only goal that we should have for education people, particularly in a public setting, is preparing folks for jobs that give them an opportunity to sustain themselves and a family. Our public schools are doing the very best they can, but they were never meant to prepare students for jobs of the 21st century. Right now, we have a high school model in this country that basically says, “We’re preparing you to be prepared to go get prepared to do something else.” We need a bigger vision than that.

The paradigm of taking high school students and putting them in technical education while they’re still in high school is the most powerful model that exists in this country. In Arkansas, we’ve had the legislation to do it for years. What we haven’t done is appropriately fund it. We need our legislators to put money into the model and force educators to do it the right way.

It’s extremely difficult for lawmakers because they’re trying to figure out, ‘Well, how do I put money in education when prisons have to have this much more money, and these guys want this much more, and they want this much for the roads.” I don’t know how they figure that out, but if they don’t start putting money into employment-relevant education, it’s only going to get worse. I also know what works in eastern Arkansas, and if it works here, it can work anywhere.