Inaugural Fundamentals Course Starts Strong

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The Electronics Fundamentals Program is hosted in a new learning lab at the Battery Innovation Center The Electronics Fundamentals Program is hosted in a new learning lab at the Battery Innovation Center

A new electronics training program housed at the Battery Innovation Center (BIC) is already changing outlooks among its students, even though it’s only a few weeks underway. The Electronics Fundamentals Program was two years in the making and involves several collaborators, including Vincennes University, WestGate Authority and southwest Indiana economic development agencies.

The Electronics Fundamentals Program is a January-to-December course resulting in a certificate of graduation in electronics fundamentals from Vincennes University, at little to no cost to the students.

“The program is intended to have a mix of high school students, career-transitioning adults and incumbent workers that are looking to sharpen their skills or expand their advancement opportunities,” explains BIC Chief Operating Officer and Chief Engineer Ben Wrightsman. “The hope is that we have this diverse group of students forming mentor-mentee relationships throughout the course.”

The goal is to equip the students with new skills they could apply to a current job, to a new job or toward an Associate Degree. The program qualifies as one year of a two-year Associates program in collaboration with VU.

The class is hosted in a new learning lab at the state-of-the-art battery research facility in Greene County. Its 16 members include recent high school graduates, students whose employers would like to see their skill sets improved, displaced adults looking for new careers and military veterans.  Wrightsman says the four-part course should present those who complete it with opportunities to work as electrical engineering technicians, electrical engineers, and shop technicians, as well as moving into support for the “internet of things” (IoT) and government defense work such as that found at neighboring Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center.

That’s exactly what student Tom Jerrels of Linton is hoping for. Jerrels is an unemployed former K-9 law enforcement officer looking for job stability while he raises a young family. He’s 29 years old, what he thinks is a good age to launch into a new career, and says he and his wife decided that he should take the leap into electronics. He chuckles, acknowledging that he never thought he’d believe Boolean algebra was fun.

“I’m amazed at how much I’ve learned in the short amount of time I’ve been in the program,” Jerrels affirms. “We’re already learning to diagnose and repair circuit boards, building them from the schematics, and since it never works correctly the first time you build it, we learn from troubleshooting the problems.”

The program was made possible by a workforce development grant from Indiana’s Office of Community and Rural Affairs, in turn received locally by the WestGate Authority. BIC sits in the WestGate@Crane Technology Park. Other collaborators include the Davies County Economic Development Corporation, Greene County Economic Development Corporation, as well as agencies from Lawrence and Martin counties.

“Vincennes University was approached as they’re continuing to grow their technology programs and are getting more into the network of skills outreach,” explains Wrightsman. “That’s one of the missions of the Battery Innovation Center and WestGate@Crane. Part of having high technology in what’s traditionally been a low technology region is to grow that next generation, and VU is taking it beyond the traditional campus.”

Wrightsman says the program is already seeing success as students are being approached by potential employers and receiving competing job offers. Affirmation will come when students prove they’ve not only learned but retained the skills taught by the program and either sustain employment or advance their current employment. The collaborators foresee the program continuing in 2018 and beyond.

For his part, Jerrels is very optimistic about where the coursework will lead him. While he’d love to score a job at Crane or one of the neighboring support businesses, he’s now also considering going to school full-time for an engineering degree.

“When I went into this, I was skeptical about how it would go. Now I’ve learned so much about this field and made friends in it. I had no idea how many different doors this opens.”

Wrightsman says the BIC is an ideal location for the course.
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