ATETV Episode 26: Growing a Competitive Workforce

This week, we learn about an agriculture curriculum and an Advanced Technological Education (ATE) Center of Excellence that are helping to promote growth — literally and figuratively!

In our first segment, we meet Dan Miller, a student in the GPS and GIS program at Kirkwood Community College who is studying to be a “cutting-edge” farmer.

“I grew up on a farm with my father, and that’s what started my interest in the field of agriculture,” says Dan. And, through Kirkwood’s GPS/GIS program, Dan is preparing to work in in the emerging geospatial technology industry. As one of only a handful of precision agriculture programs in the nation, Kirkwood’s curriculum provides students with courses in computers, GPS (Global Positioning Systems), ArcView and data collection, in addition to agronomy and agriculture economics.

GPS technology has complemented Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for a number of years. “GPS is used in a lot of tractors, but also has a lot of other applications,” notes Dan. “There’s an infinite amount of options to use in the field of agriculture right now. This program has opened my eyes to all of the programs that are available to use in our family farm operation or to help me create my own business.”

Even if Dan decides not to pursue a career in farming, the skills he’s gaining through this program can translate into numerous other careers, including construction, natural resources or other agricultural careers. But for now, Dan says, “Once I graduate my passion is to go back home and farm with my Dad. That’s what I’ve always enjoyed and that’s what I really want to do.”

In our second segment, we visit the South Carolina ATE Center of Excellence at Florence-Darlington Technical College, which has developed proven models and successful practices to improve education — and ensure a competitive, technologically savvy workforce for the future.

“We have worked one-on-one with a number of educators and other organizations around the country to develop practices and strategies that we know will increase the quantity, quality and diversity of engineering technicians and support economic development,” explains Elaine Craft. And she adds, all of today’s education research is pointing to the value of hands-on, inquiry-based learning.

“Without a hands-on experience that puts things in context and forces students to grapple a bit, the information doesn’t stick and students don’t know how to use the information the next time they encounter it,” she notes. At Florence-Darlington, a series of changes that were initially implemented to meet the learning styles of a particular group of students,are now being used to make learning more meaningful for all students.

“We entirely changed the way we approach the first year of study, integrating mathematics, physics, technology and communications,” adds Elaine. “We also have an internship program, so we can now provide students with opportunities to work while they’re enrolled in school.” Known as a “Grow-Your-Own” approach, the internship enables students to “grow up” with an industry during their two years of school, ultimately producing a good match between the graduate and the job.

The South Carolina Advanced Technological Education Center (SC ATE) is now working with community colleges and industry partners on improving Engineering Technology programs at two-year colleges not only in South Carolina, but across the country. As this week’s episode demonstrates, today’s technology students can grow and thrive in many different ways!

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