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GO Va boosts SVHEC, partners / February 15, 2018

The Southern Virginia Higher Education Center and five educational partners in the area have been awarded a GO Virginia grant of $648,000 to train students for information technology and advanced manufacturing careers.

The grant award, announced Wednesday by Gov. Ralph Northam, will be distributed among three community colleges and three higher education centers serving the City of Danville and Pittsylvania, Halifax, Mecklenburg and Charlotte counties. In South Boston, the share of money going to the SVHEC will be used to offer IT and advanced manufacturing credentialed programs for 11th and 12th grade students.

“It’s a collaborative effort to try to get more young people in the K-12 pipeline to go into technical careers,” said Patty Nelson, special projects coordinator at the SVHEC.

If funding comes together, the program would mirror the SVHEC’s existing IT Academy, mechatronics and precision machining course offerings. Students at the high school would be able to earn industry credentials in these technical fields, adding a dimension to the local school Career and Technical Education (CTE) curriculum that does not currently exist.

“We have labs for mechatronics, IT and lots of other programs that we want the school systems to be able to use,” said Nelson. Initially, the program could accommodate around 25 to 35 students, she said.

The SVHEC is aiming to offer the programs in time for the upcoming 2018-19 school year.

The $648,000 grant going to the Southside educational partners is the largest single award announced this week by GO Virginia (Growth and Opportunity for Virginia), which doled out $2,618,150 to nine projects across the state. GO Virginia was created to promote regional approaches to economic development and to identify commercialization and training opportunities that can lead to high-paying jobs.

In addition to the SVHEC, the grant will be shared among two other higher education centers — the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research in Danville and the New College Institute in Martinsville — and three area community colleges: DCC, SVCC and Patrick Henry Community College.

At the SVHEC, the GO Virginia funding will go into a funding pool for high school and middle school technical education, with other sources of revenue still pending. The biggest share of money is contained in the proposed budget that former Gov. Terry McAuliffe submitted to the General Assembly this session. McAuliffe’s budget plan calls for an extra $1 million over the next two years to go towards the SVHEC’s Career Tech Academy. That appropriation must still go through the legislature’s budget process.

Another major piece of funding will have to come from local school divisions in Halifax, Mecklenburg and Charlotte, each of which would be required to contribute to the program. “We really want them to participate in this process,” said Nelson. “The goal is to have the educational, industry and business [communities] working toward the same goal.”

As envisioned, the program would be offered as part of the high school and middle school CTE curriculum, with students coming in for a portion of the school day to learn the career fields and use the SVHEC’s facilities. The higher education center currently plays host only to high school classes in graphic design — a limited involvement that the center would like to expand, Nelson said.

Halifax County High School does “have some IT courses but this would be similar to what we have in our IT Academy,” said Nelson. “They don’t really have mechatronics” — a combination of mechanical and electronic engineering fields — or precision machining.

“We’d have more effective use of labs with these programs,” said Nelson.

The awards announced Wednesday represent the second round of project grants awarded by GO Virginia, which was formed in 2016 with the support of the state’s business leadership. GO Virginia operates with a governing council in 11 regions statewide, with each council tasked with evaluating grant requests from regional government entities.

After the $648,000 award to Southside Virginia, the next largest amount provided in this grant go-round — $500,000 — went to Richmond-area localities to fund the VCU Pharmaceutical Accelerator, an advanced manufacturing cluster for commercializing drug-making processes and equipment.

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