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High-Tech Education – Nashville, TN Builds Base for Young Innovators

Learn how Nashville's colleges, universities and business community work together to shore up the city's highly skilled workforce.

By Teree Caruthers on May 6, 2016

Nashville, TN
Nashville / Jeff Adkins

As a student at Belmont University, Ben McIntyre discovered how important gaining prior work experience is to landing a dream job. Starting his own company taught him the value of having access to a pool of experienced workers. His startup, Internpreneur, works to address both needs by helping employers develop internship programs that attract talent and build a pipeline of prospects for future employment.

“Having more and better internship opportunities in Nashville attracts more students here for school and to visit,” McIntyre says.

Exposing students to industries, jobs and professionals in the Nashville area helps retain talent by helping graduates get hired quickly, “so they never feel a need to look outside the region for work,” he says.

Corporations in the region are teaming up with universities to develop and discover talent through internships. Tractor Supply Company and other international firms partner with Belmont University’s international business program to provide students with hands-on training and the chance to network with industry leaders. Lipscomb University’s Institute for Sustainable Practice helps students gain on-the-job experience through partnerships with nonprofit organizations such as Urban Green Lab.

Belmont’s Center for Entrepreneurship works to prepare entrepreneurial-minded business leaders for the changing global economy. The center’s director Elizabeth Gortmaker says within five years after graduating, half its alumni start their own business.

“We have a very creative student body, and we believe some of the most innovative ideas we’ll see in the future will come out of fostering that creative curiosity in our students,” Gortmaker says.

High-Tech and Hands-On

Vanderbilt University is focusing on supporting aspiring makers, creators and entrepreneurs with plans for a new Innovation Center opening in 2016 that will be housed in its Engineering and Science Building. The center will offer workshops, networking events, student venture creation programs, and lecture and accelerator series.

The university is also working to ensure that students are equipped to compete in a global economy that is increasingly science- and technology-based through its Center for Science Outreach, which partners with Metro Nashville schools to provide high school students with intensive training in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines. 

“The growing health-care field needs STEM expertise, including computer and software engineers,” says Angela Eeds, director of Vanderbilt University’s School of Math and Science. “In addition, a city experiencing so much growth will benefit from civil and environmental engineers, as well as traffic engineers, and factories that have fueled Nashville’s economy such as Nissan and Bridgestone/Firestone rely on STEM professionals in multiple areas.”

Bridgestone Americas partnered with Motlow State Community College to develop the North American Manufacturing and Education Center in La Vergne, where students are trained in the field of mechatronics. Participants can go on to receive their bachelor’s degree in mechatronics engineering at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro – the first university in the nation to offer the degree. The center also partners with local high schools to offer the mechatronics program as a dual-enrolled program for juniors and seniors, allowing them to choose from three programs – a certificate, an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree. These degrees are aligned to different levels of need in Bridgestone’s workforce. The company also offers students opportunities to intern while they complete their education.

In 2015, Nissan broke ground on a 155,000-square-foot, $35 million education and training center across from its Smyrna plant that will serve as an extension of the Tennessee College of Applied Technology-Murfreesboro campus as well as a job training facility for Nissan employees and employees of other companies. The center will provide a variety of advanced manufacturing programs in concentrations such as automotive technology, mechatronics and welding.

Advancing Educational Attainment

Online university Western Governors University (WGU) Tennessee is doing its part to grow the workforce by offering competency-based degrees in high-demand fields, such as software development and health-care management.

These private-public partnerships are bringing the state closer to the goal of Gov. Bill Haslam’s Drive to 55 initiative, which seeks to raise the percentage of Tennesseans with a college degree or certificate to 55 percent by the year 2025. Gov. Haslam’s Tennessee Promise program, which guarantees graduating seniors free tuition at a state community or technical college, is also helping supply a steady stream of skilled workers to the region’s growing job market.

“A company is only going to be as successful as the people they have working for them,” says Courtney Ross, chief economic development officer for the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. “That’s why we’ve been so focused on education, from K-12 to postsecondary.”

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