Jackson State Awarded $191k from National Science Foundation

The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently awarded $191,000 to Jackson State Community College (JSCC) through its Advanced Technical Education (ATE) grant program. Dr. Richard Skelton will serve as Co-Principal Investigator of the grant and is Associate Professor for Industrial Technology at Jackson State.

‘I am very honored to be on the ground floor in the development of this curriculum and believe I will be able to contribute to this development based on my experience with our own online program that we offer here at Jackson State Community College,’ said Skelton.

The three-year award funds collaboration between community colleges in three states to develop a curriculum that prepares students for the demands of the modern manufacturing environment. The partnership is led by Madisonville Community College (MCC) in Madisonville, Kentucky and also includes Ivy Tech Community College of Indianapolis Bloomington region (Ivy Tech) in Bloomington, Indiana.

There are three things that the Advanced Technical Education (ATE) grant program will focus on. The first item of focus is curriculum development. Curriculum development will be our primary focus at Jackson State and we will be working with a company in Appleton WI to develop creative online learning objectives’ that support a common content preparing students for problem-solving activities and have sufficient academic rigor to support a multi-skilled maintenance technician program,’ said Skelton.

The second focus of the grant is to develop outreach activities to industry, middle and high school levels to dispel the stereotypes and attitudes that are often associated with production line work and manufacturing itself. Industry and manufacturing has changed over the years and today has become a wonderful alternative to those individuals that do not feel like a baccalaureate degree will supply their needs for a job in the future. A person can make good money with great benefits working in industry particularly with a technical skill background,’ said Skelton.

The grant proposal noted that researchers from The Manufacturing Institute and Georgetown University found that while manufacturing jobs are in high demand and pay high wages in most parts of the country, few high school graduates choose to pursue a degree in a manufacturing-related discipline. During its initial ATE project, MCC developed a curriculum that was delivered online with flexibly-scheduled lab activities, but still had difficulty attracting recent high school graduates to the program. The partners speculate that an outdated notion of manufacturing work as dirty, repetitive, and low-skill is to blame. Each of the partners will work with high schools in their respective service areas to determine if this is the case, and if so, how they can replace that notion with a more accurate concept of modern manufacturing, which includes critical thinking, problem solving, and applying knowledge from a variety of disciplines.

‘The third focus will be to disseminate and share the didactic content and interactive learning objects with other institutions and colleges nationwide,’ explained Skelton. By partnering with other colleges and sharing knowledge between out institutions, we can provide more qualified technically trained individuals for our industrial and manufacturing base here in West Tennessee,’ he said.

The project builds on Madisonville Community College’s previously-funded NSF-ATE project which created a curriculum centered on the integrated systems’ approach advocated by Siemens, an internationally-recognized manufacturing and engineering firm that employs over 350,000 people worldwide. The curriculum was designed to serve the light manufacturing industrial base in MCC’s service area, which consists primarily of food processing and mining-related operations. One of the objectives of the new grant project is to demonstrate that the same curriculum can serve a variety of light manufacturing bases, such as the automotive manufacturing base in Jackson and the biomedical industry base in Bloomington. As part of the project, JSCC faculty members will receive training in the integrated systems’ approach at the Siemens facility in Allentown, Pennsylvania and at Siemens Technik Akademie Berlin in Berlin, Germany.

The long-range goal for the partnership, according to MCC Director of Grants, Planning, and Effectiveness David Schuermer, is to form a consortium among the three colleges that NSF designates as a Regional Center of Excellence in manufacturing. The designation would identify the partners as experts in the field of manufacturing curriculum design. It would also provide resources for faculty members at the partner colleges to travel to other colleges nationwide who are looking to offer such a curriculum for the first time or to substantially revise and modernize their existing curricula. Assuming successful completion of their present project, the partners would apply for such a designation in 2015.

For more information, contact Richard Skelton at rskelton@jscc.edu.