Nash Community College brings local engineers and aspiring ones together

Posted February 4, 2021 5:00 a.m. EST

This article was written for our sponsor, Nash County.

From Pfizer to Cummins, an increasing presence of heavy-hitting industrial plants has made Nash County something of a hotspot for advanced manufacturing — and as companies continue to look locally for employees, engineering has been a highly sought-after trade.

For schools, capitalizing on the county’s strength allows them to prepare Nash County students for all of the local opportunities available to them.

At Nash Community College, the advanced manufacturing curricula have developed a reputation as a standout program across the area. A 16,000-square-foot building houses the classes and equipment for the program, which focuses on industrial systems technology, electrical electronics, electronics engineering, robotics, computer-integrated machining, robotics, and programmable logic controllers.

With a state-of-the-art facility to offer, the school has actively sought ways of training not just students, but also workers at local plants. In doing so, they have created valuable partnerships with companies and institutions across the county.

"Nash County and Nash Community College have a wonderful, longstanding partnership. The college serves as the county’s training entity. When Nash County and its industries have a need, they call us, because they know that we are here to help them. Whether that is long term or short term, we sit down, we make a plan, and we put a number to it. Often times, we can secure funding through our customized training program," said Wendy Marlowe, Vice President of Corporate & Economic Development at Nash Community College. "We have champion partnerships in our county, and of course Cummins-Rocky Mount Engine Plant is one of those champion training partners. They send almost all of their employees to us for training and often purchase equipment in their plant based on the equipment we have on campus."

The list of partnerships continues, from Nutkao and Atlantic Natural Foods to Pfizer and New Standard Corporation — but it’s not just local industries that benefit from a relationship with NCC. With helpful connections to engineers in the community and world-class equipment, the college also partners with a local nonprofit to help bring that expertise to Nash County Public Schools.

Strategic Twin-Counties Education Partnership (STEP), which started in 2012, brings together school districts, community colleges, and business and industry in Nash and Edgecombe counties to share resources and help improve the local economy and quality of life. More recently, STEP started the #workHERE initiative, which aims to help students connect with area professionals making them aware of opportunities in the area.

"We began visiting manufacturers and learning about the processes that are there, and our community colleges do that, but it doesn't always trickle down to high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools, so we try to make that connection all the way through to community college," said Pamela Gould, STEP’s Executive Director. "It started with cultivating those relationships, and then we started our first event, Lunch with an Engineer, which took off. We bring pizza in and engineers from numerous companies in the counties, and they have casual conversation about education with the kids."

Since students are free to ask any questions they’d like during the event, they not only make a professional connection, but they also learn more about educational options —including the ones right in their backyards that they might not already consider.

After the success of Lunch with an Engineer, Gould started searching for new ways to encourage the #workHERE initiative — and Nash Community College was more than willing to help.

"We host a STEM Design Challenge in the spring, and each of those teams in each middle school has an industry partner with consulting engineers," said Gould. "In turn, the connection with the community college is that the sponsorship sends those students to Nash Community College for STEM Camp, which exposes them to the community college, exposes them to the pathway, and then to the workforce that's here in the county."

Since starting the #workHERE initiative, the program has had over 200 volunteers contribute over 900 hours in under a year. Around 8,000 students in the school district have been impacted, and Nash Community College has seen growth in their advanced manufacturing programs.

For the college, STEP plays a major role in their work in the community, but it is just the beginning of what they have to offer — especially when it comes to collaborating with local schools.

"We're beginning a program with Rocky Mount Prep where we start working with fourth graders and help them determine what we refer to as their ‘Genius Zone’ — and that's where their aptitude and their intellect meet, and it's what they love to do," said Dr. Lew Hunnicutt, President of Nash Community College. "People think fourth graders don't know, but they do. Too many times, students, by the time they graduate from high school, have a different view of what they think they want to do because someone else told them to pursue a four-year degree, or different area of study away from their Genius Zone."

"We want to try to avoid that and say if you have wanted to be a welder since you were in the fourth grade, let's make you the very best welder you can be," he continued. "We want to keep that supportive mechanism going upward, while at the same time train or retrain parents that not everyone needs to aspire to become a doctor or lawyer."

In addition to these partnerships, Nash Community College, Nash County Public Schools and area business and industry also hold a career and technical education showcase annually that brings approximately 1,000 middle schools and high school students and their parents to Nash Community College’s campus.

In tandem with the #workHERE initiative, Marlowe, Hunnicutt and Gould all recognize the potential that their collaboration has — and while they may not always reap immediate results, they’re still bringing awareness to one-of-a-kind opportunities.

"We're the three-legged stool, in tandem with the K-12 system, the community college, and our industry partners, and we showcase that all the time. We go and meet with staff. We go and meet with our industry partners, and we visit every high school, every middle school, and every elementary school with the teams," said Marlowe. "They go in and talk to children and say, ‘Listen, you've got all these wonderful things you say you want to be, but we have so many opportunities that exist in your backyard.’ It's just so eye opening."

While Gould hopes to add new elements to programs like the STEM Design Challenge, she also sees building on the collaboration with Nash Community College as a key component to #workHERE’s future success —and in boosting the local job market.

"Whatever our community college has, we want to support and strengthen that in any way that we can and showcase it and do the same with our schools," said Gould. "We're not always looking to bring new stuff, but how can we make it better and enhance it? Nash Community College is an awesome partner, and they've had a very strong partnership with the public school system. That spirit of collaboration has always been there and continues to be there no matter what."

This article was written for our sponsor, Nash County.

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