A new partnership between Purdue University and Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana-Lafayette is opening the door for students in the area to launch a career in aerospace. Previously, the Lafayette region only offered a four-year degree in aeronautical engineering technology at Purdue, but students can now jumpstart an aerospace career by earning a two-year degree from Ivy Tech. The schools say it’s a fast track education option and a strategy to swell the pipeline of workers for the new $100 million GE Aviation jet engine facility, which has big plans for the region.

“Typically, students who attend community college live in the area, and when they graduate, work in the area,” says Ivy Tech-Lafayette Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs Dr. Todd Roswarski. “This will give an opportunity to citizens in our community and surrounding communities to have a work force pathway they may not have had otherwise.”

GE Aviation announced plans for the new facility in 2014. The plant focuses on final assembly for the company’s LEAP engine, which will power aircraft worldwide, including the Boeing 737 MAX. Production began in early 2016, and the investment is expected to create 200 jobs by 2020, when the facility reaches full capacity.

“Many graduates of the Purdue program often end up in liaison roles between design engineers and manufacturing technicians on the floor—supervisory positions,” says Purdue School of Aviation and Transportation Technology Clinical Associate Professor and Interim Head John Mott. “The challenge then becomes, how does GE find sufficient workforce capacity, especially for technicians?”

The two schools believe they’ve created the answer through a joint program in which students can co-enroll at the two colleges to earn an associate’s degree from Ivy Tech in aviation maintenance technology. Ivy Tech-Northeast in Fort Wayne is the only other program in the state that provides the same degree. Following GE’s advice, the Ivy Tech-Lafayette program has a power plant concentration, which is the engine-focused certification recognized nationwide by the FAA.

“One of the reasons I approached Purdue was because the infrastructure and equipment needed on the scale to put this program together is extremely costly—in the millions of dollars,” says Roswarski. “Given what Purdue already has, I thought it would be best for us to look at a partnership.”

Ivy Tech provides the general education, math, science and aviation courses that are less equipment-intensive. Using aircraft and jet engines at Purdue’s campus, students complete the equipment-intensive classes there; the university will also administer the power plant certification exam.

“The flow through the Purdue program is important for providing enough technicians to GE, but also, it’s a recruiting tool for Purdue,” says Mott. “We can get those Ivy Tech students exposed to what we do, and ultimately, have them think about furthering their education. So it’s a win for everybody.”

Purdue notes the Ivy Tech associate’s degree could be applied toward a Purdue bachelor’s degree through its aeronautical engineering technology or aviation management programs.  

“This partnership is meeting the critical need to prepare that next generation work force,” says Roswarski. “I think it shows how well the community college and Purdue is working together for the betterment of a community in the state of Indiana.”

The colleges hope to have about 15 students enrolled by January, when the program is scheduled to begin. Adding about 15 per semester, they expect about 60 students in the program two years from now.

“It’s about putting education together to get that nice flow through of students into the educational institutions and out into the work force,” says Mott. “Frankly, I think that’s one of the strong things that Indiana has going for it, and I think industry is recognizing that we’re doing this. I believe that’s been very beneficial in attracting additional aerospace companies to this state.”

Roswarski says a long list of factors makes Lafayette an ideal place for the co-enrollment program.

Mott says the program helps pieces of higher education in Indiana “fit together” to impact work force issues.

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