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Virginia Tech Leads Piedmont School-to-Work Initiative

By Ellen Agee and Catherine Doss

Spectrum Volume 20 Issue 24 - March 19, 1998

(Editor's note: This article about Virginia Tech's Public Service Programs, is part two in a series about outreach at Virginia Tech. Future articles will highlight other units within the Outreach Division: continuing education, international research and development, economic development, and distance learning. A final article will focus on Extension and its critical role in the outreach mission.)
Public Service Programs (PSP), a unit of the university's Outreach Division, provides consultation, training, research, technical assistance, and short courses for economic developers, community planners, tourism officials, and other community leaders throughout the state. PSP exemplifies the university's overall outreach mission by serving as a resource link between local government and the university and helping governmental organizations solve real-world problems, thereby increasing their economic competitiveness.
Throughout any given year, Public Service Programs sponsors more than a dozen economic-development and governmental-assistance workshops. Among them are the Virginia Institute for Economic Development, currently in its sixteenth year and having trained economic developers in every region of the state; a series of ISO 9000 seminars; educational workshops focusing on Internet marketing; and advanced institutes on topics such as economic-development finance and business retention and expansion.
Public Service Programs has long-standing partnerships with a number of state agencies such as the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, the Virginia Department of Business Assistance, and the Virginia Tourism Corporation for which the unit developed and continues to manage the award-winning VISIT Virginia interactive Web system (www.Virginia.org).
Through a recent grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission, Public Service Programs established a World Trade Institute designed to train export specialists in each county in the Appalachian region of the state.
The Economic Development Assistance Center (EDAC), a unit of Public Service Programs, provides technical assistance, applied research, training programs, and symposia as its primary means for serving various economic-development interests across the state. One highly successful example of the center's leadership is its work with the Piedmont school-to-work initiative.
Michael Hensley, EDAC director, and James Hoerner, professor in the College of Human Resources and Education and renowned expert in the field of vocational and technical training, are engaged in a strategic partnership that is leading a major school-to-work reform movement in Henry and Franklin counties and the City of Martinsville.
School-to-work transition is a national effort advocating work-based learning for all students from kindergarten through post-secondary educational tracks such as junior or community college. The emphasis of this movement is to prepare students for career paths and to provide relevant instruction that promotes problem-based learning and development of appropriate work skills.
The Piedmont School-to-Work Consortium, comprised of local school superintendents and representatives from Patrick Henry Community College and area businesses, is a regional group committed to implementing the necessary strategies for major educational reform. Together, Hoerner and Hensley have served to educate members of the group and guide its strategic planning process.
Last year, three grants (two from DuPont and a third from Virginia Tech), provided momentum for the project, and increased the time devoted to the project by Hoerner, Hensley, and two graduate students.
"Virginia Tech continues to be a tremendous facilitator to the consortium in the planning process where specific initiatives of the reform are laid out," said J. David Martin, superintendent of Henry County Public Schools.
The consortium's goals are to increase business participation and establish a center of excellence that espouses the national school-to-work agenda and serves as a model for similar reform. Hoerner and Hensley hope the model can be used to illustrate how to implement major educational reform along with new teacher-training techniques, retraining of existing teachers, and restructuring pilot programs for student education.
"The school-to-work concept represents a tremendous economic-development mechanism," said Bob Humkey, consortium director. "Prospective companies will be attracted to an area with a technologically trained, competent workforce."
The Piedmont school-to-work initiative offers substantial rewards for the time, money, and talent invested in it and is an example of Public Service Programs' commitment to putting knowledge to work.