Duke Energy is investing in the future of technology for Sampson Community College students, a move anticipated to benefit the community, its workforce and local industry as a whole.
Along with SCC, Duke Energy announced a $250,000 investment from the Duke Energy Foundation during a presentation at the college Tuesday morning.
According to SCC president Dr. Paul Hutchins, this grant will be used to provide training to students who are enrolled in the Industrial Systems Technology (IST) Program.
“Sampson Community College is grateful for the grant support of $250,000 from Duke Energy to enable our Industrial Systems Technology Program to acquire equipment that will provide state-of-the-art training for our students,” Hutchins said. “The Duke Energy grant funds will be used to purchase a six-module simulation system which will provide integrated training in industrial automation.”
Dana Meredith, IST Department chair, said the new equipment will afford students at SCC with many opportunities while being enrolled in the program. The equipment will enhance the learning process and provide hands-on experience.
“This equipment will impact the Industrial System Technology Program at Sampson Community College, as it will ensure students have a true picture of automation,” Meredith said. “Currently, we teach individually on the many components that are a part of IST such as hydraulics, electrical and mechanical. This equipment will provide the opportunities for the students to tie each aspect together so the students understand the process from the beginning, as a material, to the end of production, as a part.”
Additionally, Meredith said, this equipment will allow the students to troubleshoot and gain hands-on experience with Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC), hydraulics, electrical systems and more in a capstone project within their last semester at SCC.
“There are a lot of skill-sets that go into this piece of equipment,” Meredith said. “We’re just fortunate to have the industry in the area that has really supported us and fortunate that we’re going to get this new piece of equipment from Duke. We’re quite excited about this.”
Kate Brown, director of the SCC’s Customized Training and Workforce Development Programs, said the existing workforce will benefit greatly from the six-module simulation system, as skills will be improved that will then be taken back into local industry.
“The beauty of the design of this equipment is these students get this simulated environment … they get to work and study and then are able to take these skills back into the industry which impacts production and creates more efficiency, productivity and building our economy,” Brown noted. “This will be an added value — that’s what we’re really excited about this addition.”
It is Sampson Community College’s commitment to student learning that lead to Duke Energy’s decision to award the funds to the local college.
“Sampson Community College is committed to equipping its students with the skills needed to compete in emerging sectors of today’s economy,” said John Elliott, Duke Energy’s director of government and community relations. “We’re excited to make this important investment in this region in order to serve the needs of the rapidly growing advanced manufacturing sector.”
Elliott said the quarter-million dollar investment was one of the most sizable Duke Energy has made to a community college, a testament to the company’s confidence in the Sampson community and SCC’s leadership.
“We know that in so much of industry now technology is driving it all, and the need for that kind of training is so important,” Elliott said Tuesday. He said a strong proposal from the college, large existing industrial footprint and the potential for expansion and growth that is coming soon to Sampson all factored into the grant.
“The community college drives so much of that,” said Elliott. “It was just a great opportunity to bring in the equipment and, along with the first-class staff they have here, to help students get the training to be prepared to enter the workforce here in Sampson County and help these industries stay competitive.”
Industry jobs are becoming more automated, and the training to do those jobs is paramount, he said.
“That’s why Duke felt this was a perfect partnership for us, because at the end of the day we’re only as successful as the communities we serve,” he remarked. “If Sampson County and the City of Clinton continue to be successful, Duke Energy is also successful, and Sampson Community College plays such a pivotal role in that.”
The modular stations will teach highly desired troubleshooting and technical skills used within the industry. Through the partnership and the financial support of Duke Energy, the Industrial Automation Enhancement (IAE) initiative has the potential to assist 63 percent of Sampson County’s industry by enhancing the current and incoming workforce to narrow the skills gap, to ensure these industries remain productive and profitable.
The grant is part of Duke Energy’s $30 million investment in North Carolina Community Colleges’ focus on technical education and support of business and industry. Individual community colleges can apply for funds through the N.C. Community Foundation. Applications will be reviewed by a committee of representatives from Duke Energy, N.C. Community College System and N.C. Department of Commerce.
“The new equipment that is going to arrive here in the spring or early summer is just a component of a larger effort to support the community colleges,” Elliott noted.
Hutchins and others expressed their gratitude for the grant assistance, which would serve as a “shot in the arm” to expand an already successful program.
“We feel really blessed to get this kind of support from Duke Energy,” said Hutchins, who noted that utilizing state-appropriated funds for the equipment would have taken away from other program. “This fills a tremendous need for us. This is a great program and it’s a growing program.”
The IST program is about training the workforce and Meredith said there are about 120 students who make their way through training every semester, under the guidance of not just Meredith, but instructors Durwood King, Reuben Cashwell and others. There are close partnerships with a number of local industries, including Smithfield Foods, Prestage Farms, Hog Slat, Butterball, Schindler and Sager Creek, to provide training to current and potential employees.
“This equipment is going to provide an opportunity for us to take the program to an even higher level,” said Hutchins, who called it “a boon” to local industry. “It will really heighten the readiness of our students when they leave this program to go into industry and be able to be a valuable employee. This is a shot in the arm for us to take this program to new heights.”
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