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The Community and Technical College System of West Virginia was surrounded with federal grant opportunities Oct. 18 at a half-day seminar in Washington, D.C., and CTC Chancellor James Skidmore said the benefits will continue to multiply.
"It was an opportunity to have interaction with some of the federal agencies so we can better serve West Virginians," Skidmore said after the visit. "We listened to the opportunities that they have, particularly in the area of securing grants, and what their agencies do, what their emphases are, and engaged in dialogue and discussion with them about some of the things we're doing that would fit in with grant opportunities they have available."
The Arnold Agency, a Charleston-based public relations firm, was able to use its Washington, D.C., office and its president Mike Fulton to work with congressional staff members and federal agencies while The Arnold Agency's Charleston staff was able to coordinate the seminar for Skidmore with logistics and support materials.
All 10 of the state's community and technical colleges were represented, and the agencies included the USDA, Department of Labor, National Science Foundation and National Energy Technology Laboratory.
Skidmore said the seminar gave the schools information about opportunities they may not have known along with eligibility requirements. He said some grants would be for the entire CTC system to apply for, but others are just for an individual college or a consortium of two or three.
"Any time there are grant opportunities that go out … there's typically always competition for those grants," he said.
Skidmore said all states have work force development needs, but he described the need in West Virginia as "critical."
"There has been a lot written and a lot said about producing a skilled work force," he said. "Of course in West Virginia, most employment sectors, with the exception of a few, have an aging population, and the community and technical colleges tend to lead in the area of work force development.
"It's important we secure all the external funding we can."
Skidmore said implementing the technical programs that produce a skilled work force tends to be expensive to run because those programs are equipment-intensive, and the training should have up-to-date equipment that will reflect what students will see on the job.
Skidmore said the CTC system has always kept an eye on grant opportunities, but the seminar provided a fresh look at what's available.
"They gave us additional information that really enhanced our efforts of what we were doing before this," he said.
Skidmore said several grants would be a perfect fit for West Virginia's needs, such as the Advanced Technology Education grants from the National Science Foundation.
"That is geared toward technical-type programs and technician-level occupations, and obviously that's what we're trying to do in the state of West Virginia with the demand for technician-level or what we call the middle-skills jobs that require education beyond high school but less than a baccalaureate degree," he said.
Skidmore said the state also is keeping a close eye at health information technology grants for the electronic transfer of medical records.
The colleges were able to make connections with new, helpful, friendly faces, and the bonus of meeting in Washington was the availability of the state's congressional delegation.
"We had folks there from all of our Congressional offices, and they helped in the facilitation of this meeting with lining up the correct people," Skidmore said. "It never hurts to have contacts with these agencies if you have questions.
"We've got all their contact information so we can give them a call, and they were very generous with their time. They invited us to give them a call if we have any questions or if we're looking for any type of resources. Just making these contacts could be beneficial to all our colleges."
Skidmore said the National Energy Technology Laboratory is looking at the potential for a partnership with the schools in West Virginia.
"They're very interested in what we're doing in the work force area with oil and gas industries," he said. "They're looking at expanding and research – those types of things, and they're very interested in talking with us about what we're doing with oil and gas training in the state."
Skidmore said he thought each CTC left the seminar with lists of people to follow up with and grants to pursue.
"Regardless of whether we get budget cuts or not, these external grants are very beneficial any time," he said. "These federal grants really enhance what you're doing, so we would be doing this with or without a budget cut, and we'll see how that works in the future."