Academy to immerse students in local industry


JASPER — Starting in the fall of 2019, Dubois County high school students will have a new opportunity to learn high-demand skills relevant to local industry.

The four county school corporations — Greater Jasper Schools, Southwest Dubois Schools, Southeast Dubois Schools and Northeast Dubois Schools —  and Vincennes University Jasper Campus have teamed up to create the Automation and Robotics Academy, a dual credit program made possible by grant money from the Regional Opportunity Initiatives’ Ready Schools Initiative.

VUJC Dean Christian Blome and Jarred Howard, director of the Patoka Valley and Perry County Career and Technical Cooperative that oversees vocational classes for local high schools, are overseeing creation of the academy.

Once it launches, the academy will provide training in industrial automation and robotics, courses not currently available to local high school students.

Students enrolled in the academy will spend three days a week at VUJC attending two-hour-long lab classes and two days a week at an internship with a local company, putting what they learned in lab to work.

“An internship is something that always interests students,” Howard said.

Once students complete the academy, they will have a certification in industrial technology from Vincennes University, which is the equivalent of the first year of a two-year associate’s degree or of a four-year bachelor’s degree. The credits will transfer for most in-state schools, Blome said. For academy graduates not pursuing a college degree, the certificate will give them the skills they need to fill local job openings post high school.

“Anything we can do to provide options for them to get a degree or go into the workforce, we want to,” Howard said. “It’s going to provide some flexibility for them.”

The idea for the academy came out of a $300,000 planning grant the four county schools received from the Regional Opportunity Initiative in 2017 to engage district, community and industry stakeholders to better align their educational programming with the workforce opportunities across the county.

In July, the schools were awarded a second $1 million shared grant to put their planning into action. Using the grant money, the schools put together Hub 19, headed by Dubois County Ready Schools Coordinator Rick Gladish, to oversee the grant, which will also be used to bolster current science, engineering, technology and math programs in the schools. The hub serves as a central location for grant management and the collaboration and alignment between industry and the four school districts.

As far as the academy is concerned, Howard said the next steps are recruiting teachers to lead the classes, businesses to host the internships and students to enroll. Howard said he’s putting together a video about the program that he can show to students and parents in the near future. So far, the academy is on track to begin in the fall of 2019.

Although the Automation and Robotics Academy is only part of what the grant will be used for, it’s a major program aimed to aid not only students, but local industry and the community as a whole.

“I really think it’s a win-win for everyone involved,” Blome said. “The students will be competitive for local, high-paying jobs out of high school, and businesses will get qualified job candidates.”

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