Reporter’s notebook

Photo: Matthew Dembicki

  • In Virginia, scaling up successful training programs
  • In Chicago, more apprenticeship opportunities…
  • …and more STEM opportunities
  • Also, a STEM partnership in Massachusetts
  • Helping more students become architects

In Virginia, scaling up successful training programs

The Virginia community college system announced this week it is partnering with businesses and trade associations to address the state’s shortage of skilled, credentialed infrastructure workers, especially in the transportation, wind and solar energy, and broadband industries.

The Virginia Infrastructure Academy (VIA) aims to scale up successful infrastructure-related community college training programs, which now produce 4,000 graduates annually and could produce a total of 35,000 over the next five years, according to Virginia’s Community Colleges.

The collaboration will work to ensure that community college training programs are addressing urgent local needs and to forecast when and where the programs should expand. Those programs include: heavy construction and maintenance, focusing on road, bridge and tunnel construction; broadband expansion; and on- and off-shore wind and solar energy infrastructure and distribution.

“The recently approved federal infrastructure plan is only one of the things adding urgency to this work,” said Ed Dalrymple, president of Chemung Contracting Corp. and a member of the State Board for Community Colleges. “There are investments we must make now, and projects we must begin now if we want to keep that reputation. And our businesses need more skilled and qualified people to hire if they are going to make that happen.”

Lumina Foundation is funding the VIA’s start-up cost with a two-year, $400,000 grant.

In Chicago, more apprenticeship opportunities…

City Colleges of Chicago (CCC) and a regional carpenters union this week announced a joint effort to provide students with more opportunities to move into union apprenticeships faster.

CCC has signed an agreement with the Mid-America Carpenters Regional Council’s Apprentice and Training Fund to allow journeymen carpenters to apply their education and training experiences towards a degree at Kennedy-King College, and for the first time allow students who successfully complete their basic certificate in carpentry at the college to receive advanced placement in the fund’s pre-apprenticeship program.

The agreement outlines a pathway for participants to earn a degree in construction management at CCC, awarding college credit to those with approved prior experience. Another agreement benefit gives those with appropriate prior credits from CCC’s carpentry program a chance to place out of equivalent classes in the pre-apprenticeship program. In addition, the apprenticeship will offer classes designed to meet the needs of CCC carpentry completers to satisfy pre-apprentice requirements and will be available on nights and weekends. The flexibility offers students a broad range of educational opportunities, according to the partners.

“This is a tremendous advantage for our students,” Kennedy-King President Gregory said in a press release. “It’s a win-win.”

…and more STEM opportunities

City Colleges of Chicago (CCC) also announced this week a partnership with the University of Chicago (UChicago) to strengthen STEM education and career opportunities and create a more diverse field of professionals entering the sciences.

A CCC degree program in data science is among the first initiatives being developed from the collaboration, according to the college system.

While the number of STEM degrees awarded nationally has grown in recent years, reports show that diversity among degree earners has lagged. In 2018, Latinx students earned 12% of the bachelor’s degrees awarded in the United States in STEM fields, and Black students earned just 7%, according to a Pew Research Center analysis.

The new partnership builds on existing initiatives that aim to increase the number of CCC students earning degrees in the sciences and advancing into STEM fields. A molecular engineering course at UChicago taught exclusively for CCC students, for instance, was designed to open pathways for those students to transfer into four-year STEM degree programs.

“This relationship is about harnessing two of our city’s higher education assets to create unprecedented opportunities and, ultimately, a more inclusive economy,” said CCC Chancellor Juan Salgado. “We’ll not only create new pathways and internship opportunities for our students, but we’ll also build a pipeline of educators prepared to teach in new and emerging STEM fields. It promises to be transformative not only for our students but for our faculty — and for the students and faculty of the University of Chicago as well.”

To generate new opportunities for collaboration between CCC and UChicago, academic and administrative representatives from each institution will serve on a leadership committee and convene annually with the president and chancellor to advance innovative initiatives.

Also, a STEM partnership in Massachusetts

Massachusetts Bay Community College (MassBay) and Open Avenues Foundation (OAF) have launched a partnership to provide STEM students with experiential learning opportunities and micro-internships that will help build a more robust and diverse pipeline of trained workers to fill open positions in STEM-related industries.

MassBay is the first community college to partner with OAF, a Boston-based nonprofit that brings globally diverse talent from high-growth companies to lead career development opportunities for students in STEM and business fields.

This fall, MassBay assistant professor Kuangming Covitz incorporated the OAF fellowship project into her remote biology course. The project is led by Anisha Chandra Mohan, an OAF fellow and biologist at Cambridge-based LifeMine Therapeutics. The 15-week collaboration provides 24 MassBay students enrolled in the course with exposure to real-world, on-the-job experience and networking opportunities.

The project aims to enhance the curriculum by allowing students to delve into an actual case study and investigate the development of Covid vaccines, according to MassBay. Students learn about frontline technologies and scientific research used to help scientists detect the coronavirus that caused Covid-19.

“It’s an exciting experience working with OAF to build the bridge from a classroom to a biotech bench,” Covitz said.

Helping more students become architects

Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) in Iowa is teaming with a private institution in Minnesota to help graduates of its architectural technologies program earn a baccalaureate of architecture more quickly.

Dunwoody College of Technology will accept DMACC’s architectural technologies applied associate of science degree as being equal to the first two years of its five-year bachelor of architecture degree program. Dunwoody’s degree program is offered entirely online or face-to-face, providing more flexibility to students who may not want or be able to relocate.

Mike Gatzke, chair of the DMACC architectural technologies program, said partnerships like the one between DMACC and Dunwoody are rare in architecture education and are very much needed.

“The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that architecture is expected to grow at a faster-than-average rate as a career field in the coming years, and we want to make sure our students are well-prepared for the opportunities in front of them,” he said.

A glimpse at the DMACC architectural technologies program

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.