South Boston News & Record
and Mecklenburg Sun
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Military’s loss, Southside’s gain
SoVaNow.com / June 19, 2013Where does a former soldier turn, after he or she has been forced into retirement by the Defense Department? Tom Loftus, a retired Air Force Medical Service Corps officer and former commander of American Legion Post 45 in Clarksville says he has the answer: the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center (SVHEC), where the soldier can receive training in digital art and design or product design and development.
“The military’s loss could be Southside Virginia’s gain,” said Loftus, as he works on recruiting former soldiers into programs at the SVHEC Innovation Center.
Over the next couple of years, the defense department expects to “pink slip” some 200,000 soldiers, according to Loftus. “Those who were submariners, worked with aircraft, or in communications already received the initial training they need to work toward an associate’s degree in many of the computer based programs offered at SVHEC,” said Loftus. That is why he is on a mission to unite these veterans with the Center, its R&D Center for Advanced Manufacturing & Energy Efficiency, and the digital art and design, and product design and development programs offered at SVHEC in partnership with Danville Community College.
At the same time, Mecklenburg County recently entered into a series of strategic alliances, including one with Virginia’s Growth Alliance – a regional economic development organization serving Brunswick, Charlotte, Greensville, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg and Nottoway counties and the city of Emporia. The goal of these alliances is to recruit advanced manufacturing facilities to Southside Virginia. However, they need a workforce that is ready, willing and able to fill the jobs associated with these companies.
The R&D Center for Advanced Manufacturing & Energy Efficiency (CAMEE) was developed to accelerate economic growth throughout Southern Virginia, explains the program Director David Kenealy. “We achieve that goal,” said Kenealy, “by preparing a workforce that is capable of working in any advanced manufacturing facility and using innovative technology and techniques.”
Kenealy stressed, “We in R&D CAMEE are not an academic institution. As much as possible we strive to emulate a real-life manufacturing and design environment for those involved in the program. When they complete our curriculum, the trainees will be ready to step into most R&D jobs at any modern-day manufacturing facility.
SVHEC and R&D CAMEE first came to the attention of Loftus as he worked on another of his pet projects, helping veterans, especially those whose time in the service left them with a disability. A walking cane designed and manufactured by the R&D CAMEE staff fascinated him. “It’s lightweight, and after some modifications will have an LED light to illuminate a path in front of its user, and a tiny servo motor to adjust the height of the can at the touch of a button. It will even become a crutch when necessary by using an attachment” Loftus explained.
Kenealy said, “We were not thinking specifically about veterans when we first envisioned the walking cane. We simply wanted a product that was manufactured at the Center using all of the available high-tech machines. When Loftus saw the cane, he immediately thought of veterans and children who lost limbs to land mines and IEDs.
Loftus met with Kenealy to discuss ways to show off the cane during his travels to Tidewater and North Carolina Piedmont area military bases and Veterans Administration medical centers. But he left the meeting with a second mission: to find and recruit veterans into the digital art and design, and product design and development programs available at the SVHEC Innovation Center.
With the introduction of an accessible kayak launch at Tailrace Park, Loftus watched a demonstration of a kayak launch, in particular a kayaker pulling himself back up the ramp — and he thought of R&D CAMEE. Why couldn’t they design and install a solar-powered hoist to bring kayakers up the launch ramp without having to use their own muscles? His second thought: Wouldn’t it be great to have veterans working in R&D CAMEE design the hoist for disabled veterans who might use the facility?
The SVHEC Innovation Center is located in a repurposed tobacco warehouse in South Boston. Thanks to a $1.375 million grant from the Tobacco Commission, the Center is equipped with an advanced machining center, computer labs, multi-use classrooms, a student studio & and prototype space, and is the home for R&D CAMEE, Workforce Services@SVHEC, and the digital art and design, and product design and development programs. As SVHEC looks for students to fill the digital art and design, and product design and development programs, Loftus said why not fill those slots with veterans and provide them education and training programs for both existing and emerging technology skills.
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