As East Central Indiana’s economy grows, schools, colleges and universities keep pace with workforce demand with innovative programs and a technology-based curriculum. For example, Jay School Corporation in Portland has instituted an award-winning robotics program in high schools, middle schools and even elementary schools. Jay County has one of the most competitive, successful robotics teams in the nation, and the high school teams consistently place in the top 25 internationally.
“Our elementary schools are starting to experiment with a Lego-type robotics program, which is more appropriate for younger students,” says Jeremy Gulley, superintendent of Jay School Corporation. “It's making it possible for elementary students to learn the basics of robotics while also making it fun. We've had many sponsorships from our local manufacturers and employers who have contributed so that these programs are a success.”
Gulley says the robotics program is just one of many ways the school district works to prepare students for future employment. The manufacturing academy at Jay County High School introduces students to advanced manufacturing, which accounts for nearly 50 percent of jobs in Jay County. The school also offers an adult training program for those who want to learn new skills or advance their careers.
“There are many private sector jobs in manufacturing in our region, and we know now that there are more baby boomers retiring than there are enough supply of skilled young people to fill those jobs. We've made a pipeline of talented young people and adults to learn skills. What we ultimately want to see is improved wages for folks in the manufacturing sector,” Gulley says.
A Smart Start to the Future
Blackford County Schools also has been purposeful in supporting workforce development. The district received a $900,000 grant for the Jay-Blackford Manufacturing Alliance, designed to specifically target the skills necessary for employment within the East Central Indiana region. The result will be a locally developed certification and targeted training program.
“Students will be required to utilize technology efficiently, effectively and with empathy for their peers as they enter the next generation workplace. Blackford County Schools has embedded these qualities within our K-12 STEM and computer coding courses,” says Dr. Scot Croner, superintendent of Blackford County Schools. “We are proud to offer computer programming, 3-D printing and robotics at the elementary level. Through our local industry partnerships, we know we are providing our students the opportunity to develop the skills needed for tomorrow’s high-tech workforce.”
Higher Education Innovation
The region’s colleges and universities also play a critical role in keeping the pipeline of highly skilled talent flowing to the workforce. Ball State University in Muncie is home to the Burris Laboratory School, a K-12 school for high achievers, which also is a teaching site for Ball State’s education majors. Ball State is a national leader in teacher training and digital education, earning recognition from the Princeton Review for 12 consecutive years as one of the best universities in the Midwest. The university partnered with Paws Inc., the global headquarters for Garfield the Cat, to create the Professor Garfield Foundation, which offers free digital literacy training materials for teachers around the country.
East Central Indiana is also home to Earlham College, which offers the oldest Japanese studies programs in the country, and Taylor University, a Christian-based liberal arts college in Upland. Ranked the top regional college in the Midwest by US News & World Report, Taylor is known for its engineering program and work in aerospace.
“We have an extensive nanosatellite program in our aerospace department. Students who have been involved in our satellite program have perpetuated on to jobs in the industry,” says Dr. Scott Steckenrider, department chair and associate professor of engineering at Taylor University. "We have a 100 percent placement rate in students finding jobs after graduation or going on to graduate school.”