Above: Tennessee Governor Bill Lee at the Elizabethton TCAT. Photo by Scott Robertson
Tennessee Governor Bill Lee made his first visit to the Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) Elizabethton Jan. 3 to announce a $1 million Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education (GIVE) grant to fund “Northeast STEM to Work” training.
The Northeast Tennessee STEM to Work initiative is designed to bring STEM-based education to more than 300 high school students from nine school systems within the TCAT Elizabethton service area, including Carter, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington counties. The initiative is meant to address industry existing and future demands for trained workers with advanced manufacturing skills and impending retirements.
In 2019, the Tennessee General Assembly approved $25 million in the state budget to collaborate with local partners for GIVE. The awards went to programs throughout the state, with the highest award to any program being $1 million. TCAT President Dean Blevins expressed appreciation to Gov. Lee for the GIVE grant which will be used, he said, to enhance learning opportunities in high demand fields for students in the region.
During the TCAT visit, Gov. Lee met Charles Phillips, the recently-hired instructor for Advanced Manufacturing Technology who has 21-plus years’ experience in the field.
TCAT Elizabethton Vice President Danny O’Quinn, project coordinator, said the TCAT-Elizabethton grant for the Advanced Manufacturing Program will be used to purchase machinery and technology used by the most modern manufacturers. These include smart machinery and robotics.
“We started this a year ago and we are half complete. This grant will allow us to complete it,” O’Quinn said. The Advanced Manufacturing Program will allow students to be familiar with the latest equipment used in manufacturing. He said much of the lab is designed according to the Factory 4.0 model designed by the German company FESTO.”
The rest of the $1 million grant is going to STEM (Science, Technology, Education and Math) labs built by TCAT Elizabethton in area high schools. The first labs being built will be located at Elizabethton and Unicoi County High Schools. A decision has not yet been made on the next high schools to be added.
O’Quinn said the labs will enable high school students to take TCAT Elizabethton courses in their own school. Students taking courses in the lab would receive dual credit and would be able to complete as many as six of the 15 modules for completion of a TCAT course. Students coming from a school with such a lab would only have to take nine more modules before they graduate and move on to a job.
Lee announced projects receiving funding through the GIVE program which prioritizes learning opportunities in rural counties and enhances career and technical education statewide. The program prioritized economically distressed and at-risk counties in the RFP process. The 28 funded projects will serve all economically distressed counties and 18 of the 24 at-risk counties, Lee said.
The Appalachian Regional Commission index of economic status categorizes counties as at-risk or distressed based upon their three-year average unemployment rate, per capita market income, and poverty rates. Distressed counties rank among the 10 percent most economically distressed in the nation while at-risk counties rank between the bottom 10 percent and 25 percent of the nation’s counties, Lee said.
Some 20 elected and appointed government officials from five Northeast Tennessee counties, as well as members of the TCAT Elizabethton General Advisory Committee and faculty, were invited to hear Gov. Lee’s announcement. TCAT students were on break between trimesters.
“We are proud to work with the General Assembly to pass the GIVE initiative and expand career and technical education for Tennessee students. These funds directly support our workforce development efforts in distressed and at-risk counties and are a key component of our strategy to prioritize rural Tennessee,” Lee said.
TCAT Elizabethton serves approximately 1,500 students who commute to class each day from their residence in Carter, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi, and Washington counties. For the past several years, TCAT Elizabethton program completion, job placement and licensure pass rates have been in the 90-percentile range, according to Blevins.
In addition to Advanced Manufacturing Technology, TCAT Elizabethton offers training on campus leading to a diploma or certificate in most cases in the following areas: Administrative Office Technology, Automotive Technology, Computer Information Technology, Cosmetology, Criminal Justice (for jailers), Diesel Powered Equipment Technology, Industrial Electricity, Machine Tool Technology, Millwright Skills, Phlebotomy, Pipefitting, Practical Nursing (diploma only) and Welding.
Tennessee Promise scholarships for high school students and Tennessee Reconnect for adults provide two years of free tuition to attend TCAT Elizabethton after all other financial assistance has been applied to students who qualify.