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Jefferson County Colleges Fueling Arkansas Workforce

Higher educations institutions in Jefferson County, AR are helping fuel the economy with innovative workforce training programs.

By Phil Newman on July 22, 2014

Higher education institutions in Jefferson County are fueling a highly-skilled workforce across the region. The area is home to The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and Southeast Arkansas College (SEARK), both of which offer programs and partnerships with businesses and organizations that prepare students for high-in-demand jobs throughout the region’s diverse industry base.

UAPB, the oldest historically black institution of higher education in the state, offers degree programs that allow students to pursue careers in everything from regulatory science to business administration. Its STEM Academy, established to enhance science, technology, engineering and mathematics curriculum, helps prospective and current UAPB students train for success in fields such as chemistry, mathematics, physics, computer science, biology, plant and animal sciences and industrial technology.

UAPB recently signed an agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to advance STEM enrichment programs as part of an effort to increase the number of well-prepared, underrepresented minority graduates for careers in STEM professions.

“One of UAPB’s goals is to use science and technology to help build up the local economy and state economy,” says Mary Benjamin, UAPB’s vice chancellor for academic affairs. “Our agreement with the Corps of Engineers gives the student a new laboratory to work in, a new experience, scholarships and the potential for shared research.”

UAPB STEM Academy Helps Boost Local Economy

UAPB offers a STEM Summer Academy bridge program that provides high school graduates with the skills to make a seamless transition to college. With 226 students enrolled in STEM programs, the academy has outgrown its facilities on the UAPB campus. A new $10 million, 29,000-square-foot STEM Academy building is scheduled for completion in late summer of 2014.

Local businesses and organizations that support STEM programs through UAPB include the Pine Bluff Arsenal, Wheeling Machine Products, Liberty Utilities, the National Center for Toxicological Research, Tyson Foods and Walmart.

Along with its STEM activity, UAPB is also seeing growing demand within its business school, which enrolls between 375-400 students annually and includes bachelor of science degrees in accounting and business technology as well as bachelor of science degrees in business administration.

Its business programs were recently accredited by the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs Baccalaureate/Graduate Degree Board of Commissioners.

“Achieving this accreditation is critical in our efforts to enhance the reputation of the School of Business and Management, both internally and externally,” says Carla Marla, dean of the School of Business and Management at UAPB.

Such recognition helps the university in its recruiting efforts, as well as aiding students pursuing advanced degrees and positions after graduation, she notes.

“Our community of business partners has been very supportive of UAPB, and particularly the School of Business and its students,” Martin says. “I think they see the value of having quality programs in their backyard.”

SEARK Offers Customized Training

Along with offering associate degrees and technical certificates, Southeast Arkansas College has a Workforce Development Center that trains employees and individuals seeking to enhance their knowledge, skills and abilities in a range of fields. The center offers customized credit, continuing education, professional development and personal enrichment courses, with classes scheduled throughout the year. Training can also be scheduled at a worksite to accommodate employers.

“The center provides the knowledge and skills that local industries need,” says Wanda Lindsey, director of SEARK’s Workforce Development Center. “Our instructors are certified and professional with hands-on field experience. We offer customized training at the location of their choice and at the time that works for their employees.”

Companies that have hired SEARK workforce center graduates include Tyson, Stant USA Corp., The Strong Company, Condray Sign & Advertising Co., Pine Bluff Heating and Air, R&E Supply and W&A Manufacturing.

“The team at SEARK is always helpful, knowledgeable and very dedicated to meeting our needs,” says Lanita Plunkett, human resource manager for ArcelorMittal, which has partnered with the center. “We have utilized their services in a wide variety of training formats, including computer, technical, mechanical and electrical.”

The center is an excellent training resource for employers, says Lisa Hankins, human resource manager for Graphic Packaging.

“We have had some of our employees attend classes in electronics to help them improve in their skills used on the production floor,” Hankins says. “SEARK is definitely a college that is helping our community.”

Find out how UAPB helps students find internships.

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