UAFS wins another $2 million in grants for regional workforce development program

by Talk Business & Politics staff (staff2@talkbusiness.net) 574 views 

Dr. Brian McLaughlin, associate professor of computer and information sciences, works with an Alma High School student in a computer science class offered through the Regional Workforce Grants. (photo courtesy of the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith)

The University of Arkansas at Fort Smith (UAFS) has received nearly $2 million in “continuation” grants from the Arkansas Department of Higher Education (ADHE) for the university’s existing Regional Workforce Grant programs.

With the funds, UAFS will offer concurrent credit courses to students at local high schools for two more years in robot automation and cyber systems to help address the skills gaps in those fields. A $999,999 grant for cyber systems and a $997,891 grant for robotics automation will fund concurrent credit courses at Fort Smith, Greenwood, Charleston, and Alma public schools, in addition to the Future School of Fort Smith. Instead of being offered at local high schools, the courses will be offered on-site at local industries – robotics automation at ABB and cyber systems at ArcBest – to immerse students in real-world work environments.

A first round of funding for the Regional Workforce Grant (RWG) program came in 2016, with $987,000 for robotics and $984,000 for cyber systems.

The school also will add Career Camp, which will take a group of eighth-grade students in Fort Smith Public Schools through an introduction to high-demand career fields like manufacturing and information technology via tours of local businesses and industry partners. The camp will take place in the fall semester, culminating in the students creating a career plan.

“The industry and K-12 partnerships formed by UAFS in connection with the Regional Workforce Grants are critical to the overall mission of the grants,” said Amanda Seidenzahl, director of the RWG program. “The Career Camp is a valuable opportunity to provide an even earlier connection for students to learn about in-demand career options available in the Fort Smith region.”

Dr. Ken Warden, dean of the College of Applied Science and Technology at UAFS, thanked ADHE for their support of a “world-class” educational program.

“We are very thankful to the Arkansas Department of Higher Education and Director Maria Markham for her visionary approach to improving workforce education,” Warden said. “UAFS will leverage this grant, which has become the statewide model for public-private partnerships, to continue offering world-class educational opportunities to students in our region.”

ADHE Director Maria Markham praised the program’s innovation and collaboration.

“The Regional Workforce Grant Committee is pleased to award a continuation grant to UAFS. Amanda Seidenzahl and the Regional Workforce staff at UAFS have innovatively leveraged their partnerships with local industry to the benefit of students with proven outcomes,” Markham said in a statement from UAFS. “This coordination between high school students, college students, and industry is influential to create a successful economic climate in Arkansas.”

Talk Business & Politics featured the workforce development programs in February. At that time, UAFS had only received the 2016 funding round. In addition to the new money, the university is working toward self-sustaining cost-share programs with participating districts to continue the programs indefinitely. Warden told Talk Business & Politics in the previous interview the two programs were designed to complement the university’s long-running Western Arkansas Technical Center (WATC), which welcomes students from outlying schools to take concurrent-credit college courses while working toward their high school diploma.

The workforce development program utilizes UAFS instructors, who teach the courses as part of the regular school day. The robot automation program launched in the 2016-2017 school year with Charleston, Greenwood, and Southside High Schools. Since that time, Booneville and Van Buren High Schools have joined, utilizing accompanying funds from grants through the Guy Fenter Educational Cooperative and Arkansas Department of Career Education. On the Cyber Systems side, pilot schools were Alma, Northside, and Van Buren High Schools. Future School of Fort Smith and Greenwood followed, and Van Buren added the Robot component for the 2017-2018 School Year for a total of eight participating schools.

As part of the programs, UAFS provides executive mentorship programs to each district. Partner companies include ABB/Baldor Electric, ArcBest, the Arkansas Air National Guard 188th Wing, Arkansas Army National Guard, Arvest, Hickory Springs Manufacturing, Pernod-Ricard, Trane Custom Commercial, Walmart Technologies, and Weldon, Williams, & Lick.

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