By Cory L. Higgs
A partnership between Patrick Henry Community College and the Patrick County School Division was evident during a recent Open House that was held to showcase a new welding facility.
Housed in the Patrick County High School, the welding program offers high school students and PHCC students the opportunity to earn credits towards various welding certifications without the drive to PHCC’s main campus in Martinsville. The program also offers high school students the option of earning college credits.
Colin Ferguson, Ph.D. Dean of STEM-HAP, said the program is a great opportunity for Patrick County, because students completing PHCC’s welding program easily find employment. Ferguson also said that students that pass the course land in jobs right away.
Now, local students have access to the ‘amazing’ faculty and facilities, he added.
The school division and PHCC both are vested in the program, according to Greg Hodges, Ph.D., Vice President for Academic & Student Success Services. He said that Patrick County Public Schools financed the renovations costs, and PHCC paid for the equipment, supplies, and personnel.
“PHCC spent $102,788 on equipment and $35,847 on welding supplies, for a total of $138,274 to stand up the program. Of this amount, $52,140 was provided to PHCC through a grant by the” Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission, Hodges said.
He added that the balance was paid using the state’s Equipment, Trust, Fund (ETF) over two years. The ETF funding allows colleges to purchases equipment – such as that installed in the new lab — and lets the college choose their funding priority. PHCC decided to direct their funding towards equipping and supplying the new lab in Patrick County.
Hodges said that the grants and funds directed toward the program along with tuition wouldn’t be enough to cover personnel costs. However, PHCC “views this as part of its commitment to the economic development of Patrick County and is willing to absorb the loss.”
During the event, students previewed the space and enrolled for future classes. The registration sheet was nearly completely full of the names of high school juniors who want to attend the first wave of classes.
Randy Smith, an instructor at the new facility, said the program is for the senior class. Within a year, students accepted in the program will be well on their way to earning the five different welding certifications. Some will be completed at PHCC’s main site, he said, adding that the local facility saves students a lot of time and means they don’t need to commute for many of the classes.
The facility at PCHS is equipped with 15 booths, each with state of the art ventilation, workbenches, two types of welding machines, and a starter pack of tools.
“It’s sharp. For a high school welding lab, it’s super sharp,” Smith said. “It’s a perfect facility.”
Having it located in Stuart gives students the opportunity to be trained in a trade that is in high demand, not only in Patrick County but in surrounding localities and beyond, Smith added.
The joint venture is a spin-off of a similar successful program in Martinsville and Hodges said he hopes the program in Patrick County also will be a success.
He noted that PHCC is excited for the partnership with Patrick County Public Schools, and is “ecstatic for economic development potential the program brings to the residents of Patrick County.”