Though options abound when it comes to choosing a career and going to college, there are many in our community who find the doors to this type of personal advancement harder to open, if not closed entirely.
This year, Piedmont Technical College made a concerted effort to increase educational opportunities for all individuals in the region by removing many of the obstacles that stood in their way.
In all, the college launched three new initiatives to help elevate more members of the community through training and education.
Ready To Work
One such initiative started after the college received the State Workforce Development Board’s (SWDB) Apprenticeships for Priority Populations Grant to help cover tuition costs for the first two steps of the college’s new “Ready to Work” program. SWDB awarded the college $100,000 to implement apprenticeship opportunities for individuals with barriers to employment.
“We are very happy with this show of support from the State Workforce Development Board,” said Rusty Denning, associate VP for economic development and continuing education. “This grant has helped make this training affordable for more residents in our region.”
The program, which launched in January, provides training for well paid, highly skilled careers in manufacturing to individuals who aren't currently working in the region, such as "at risk" populations with lacking skillsets, and, in many cases, with background issues.
With the help of the grant, the cost savings for each participant are significant.
“The tuition for the first two steps of the program are free for qualifying participants,” said Denning. “Combined, the workshop and the certificate are a $2,000 value.”
Participants receive personalized case management from Piedmont Tech employees to help connect them with community services they may require, such as record expungement and GED preparation. The program will also provide each participant with a clearly defined, three-step training process that will position them for successful careers and actual jobs that are in demand now.
A Night of Hope
A similar initiative kicked-off this summer with A Night of Hope — a community outreach event to connect area agencies with those in need.
“We’ve been looking at non-traditional students and trying to see what issues they face that have kept them from enrolling in college,” said Darlene Saxon, admissions counselor. “We found there were many barriers.”
The event centered on helping potential students who did not enroll in college immediately after high school. Because this group is usually older or more focused on work, Saxon said the admissions team took a closer look at those barriers and addressed what was needed for the students to move further and change their lives. Their proposal was to bring together all of the resources necessary under one roof.
More than 20 local, state and federal organizations were in attendance at the inaugural event, including such agencies as Department of Social Services, the Hispanic Alliance, 8th Circuit Solicitor’s Office and A Place for Us.
“Before we can focus on recruiting, we need to address what’s preventing them from pursuing an education,” said Renae Frazier, dean of admissions. “We wanted them to have dinner, laugh and walk out with a bag of information and a mind saying ‘it’s possible now.’”
Through another new program called MODELS Academy, PTC is taking action to address a problem of national proportions.
“There continues to be a crisis among African-American males in education,” said Steve Coleman, director of Genesis Initiatives.
In the U.S., more than two-thirds of African American men who start college do not graduate within six years, which is the lowest college completion rate among both sexes and all racial/ethnic groups in higher education.
Based on the previous success of the Project Genesis initiative at Piedmont Technical College, the idea for MODELS Academy was born.
“Our work with Project Genesis proved to be very successful with a large group of African American men on campus at PTC,” Coleman said. “I saw how that consistent interaction made a difference in their academic lives, their social lives and their existence here at our college. I thought that work would translate to a community initiative focused on early intervention and mentoring.”
MODELS (Men Of Distinction, Elite Leaders and community Servants) Academy was based on several organizations around the country including Call Me MISTER, and 100 Black Men.
“The MODELS Academy program is something that was established right here in Greenwood County,” said Coleman. “As an African-American male who has been blessed with success, it is my duty to be active in the African-American community and to help address some of the issues.”
The program is targeted to young men in grades 6-12 who have already exhibited potential. Students participating in the program are from Abbeville, Greenwood and Newberry counties. They are recommended by guidance counselors or community members. Coleman said the students they want to help are those who have already proven potential that often fall through the cracks.
The students in the program meet weekly with a planned curriculum that covers social and academic concerns. They are required to read, study African-American history, participate in debates to hone their critical thinking and oratory skills and discuss current events. The students are also required to participate in community service projects.
“Piedmont Technical College serves an extremely diverse range of students, and we’re committed to providing people from all walks of life the tools they need to enjoy the benefits a college education can provide.” said Dr. Ray Brooks, president of PTC. “We think MODELS Academy is going to make a huge difference for these young men, and we look forward to seeing them succeed.”