Haywood Community College will partner with Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College to improve technician training and increase the number of highly skilled workers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) priority areas through a grant from the National Science Foundation.

“Skilled Workers Get Jobs 2.0: Appalachian Impact” builds upon the results of a previously funded NSF pilot project at A-B Tech that evaluated strategies to retain more female college students in two-year technician preparation programs. Over a three-year period, A-B Tech increased the number of female students in the specific STEM programs from 12 to 19 percent. The project also worked to improve all technician training. 

Now A-B Tech will be helping six other community colleges in the Southern Appalachian Region, including HCC, to replicate successful aspects of the pilot project. There will be gender equity and problem-based learning training for community college instructors and public school educators, a Women in Technology Ambassador program, and professional development opportunities.

Other partnering colleges include: Blue Ridge, Southwestern and Tri-County Community Colleges in North Carolina; Northeast State Community College in Tennessee; and Virginia Highlands Community College.

Matt Heimburg, HCC High School Programs Coordinator, will serve as HCC’s Liaison for the grant. “This grant is an exciting opportunity for Haywood Community College to partner with other leading community colleges in our region in bringing high-quality education and training in STEM programs to the residents and educators of Haywood County,” Heimburg said.

At HCC, this grant will focus on the Computer-Integrated Machining, Computer Information Technology, Electronics Engineering Technology, and Networking Technology programs.

Pamela Silvers, former Computer Technologies Chair at A-B Tech and coordinator for the pilot project, will now focus her work on leading and managing the new grant project as the principal investigator. “There is a critical shortage of skilled workers in Technology and Engineering jobs. Increasing female enrollment and persistence in these programs will address this regional problem,” Silvers said.

The project will serve more than 4,000 undergraduate students, pre-college students, college faculty and pre-college faculty over a three-year period. The objectives are to increase the percentage of female students who enroll in the targeted technician programs by 15 percent per year and to increase the fall-to-fall retention rate of the female students.

“The premise of the project is that the unique combination of gender equity practices, problem-based learning, and a support network are critically important to recruitment and retention of all students - particularly under-represented populations, such as female students in technology and engineering programs,” Silvers said.

The Career and Technical Education division of the North Carolina Community College System will also support the project by conducting three site trainings in key locations across North Carolina for its 58 colleges.