Feature: Business Partnerships

a man in a fancy forklift

All roads lead to work at Forsyth Tech. Partnerships with local employers and community organizations are key tools the college uses to provide students with the most productive educational experience possible that will usher them into the workforce.

Students learn hands-on skills from instructors who work or have worked in their fields. Professionals guest-lecture on campus. Students visit workplaces to observe the jobs they’re preparing for. Some employers offer internships to give students on-the-job experience. Others sit on college advisory committees to help faculty stay attuned to what’s happening in the marketplace. “We want to be so engaged with companies that we anticipate where they’re going before or as they move forward,” explains Forsyth Tech’s President, Dr. Gary Green. The following examples of “living learning” partnerships are just a few of the many ways the college connects with businesses in the community for students’ benefits.

Tapping Students’ Creativity

Partner: Wake Forest Innovations

students at a machineWhen David Dinkins and Mohammad Albanna met at a social gathering in 2014, they quickly realized their common professional interests. David, a Forsyth Tech Mechanical Engineering Technology instructor, is always scouting for opportunities for his students to gain real-world work experience. Mr. Albanna, an Innovation Associate at Wake Forest Innovations, helps turn physician-generated ideas into marketable products. What if they collaborated to bring a prototype into the world?

Dr. Joshua Nitsche, a Wake Forest Baptist Maternal-Fetal Medicine physician, had a concept for a device that would help medical residents and post-graduate fellows in Maternal-Fetal Medicine (a subspecialty of obstetrics and gynecology) learn to perform ultrasound-guided amniocentesis on patients. The ultrasound device teaches physicians to pinpoint where to insert the needle safely.

In addition, the prototype, known as an “ultrasound-guided invasive procedure trainer,” can be adjusted to carry out other medical procedures requiring good hand-eye coordination, such as introducing a central line into the jugular vein. “It can help clinicians, even those who are doing it for the first time, gain competence, experience and confidence,” says Dr. Nitsche.

Students working on plansDr. Nitsche built the initial prototype in his garage with materials from a home-improvement store. He brought it to Mr. Albanna who recognized its commercial potential and began searching for a partner to refine the design and build a more sophisticated prototype. Enter Forsyth Tech’s Mechanical Engineering Technology and Computer-Integrated Machining students.

Three mechanical engineering students demonstrated a keen interest in the project. Working as a team, they originated ideas, extrapolating from Dr. Nitsche’s original concept, who was impressed. “They brought a couple different designs and permutations for each. And they had ideas for materials I hadn’t thought of,” he recalls.

Once the students got the green light for a design, they wrote specifications. “We proposed using silicone, and Dr. Nitsche was reluctant to use it at first,” says mechanical engineering student Joshua Shannon. “But we brought samples we found locally. When he tried them, he was on board,” he adds, illustrating the collaborative give and take they experienced.

Students gathered around a speakerThe program’s computer-integrated machining students took charge of fabrication. “Most projects we do in class have set specifications, similar to those in manufacturing,” says machining student Casey Gunter. “But on the prototype, dimensions and tolerances changed, since we were involved in the design process.” Working on the device gave three machining students exposure to research and development.

In February, Dr. Nitsche asked physicians to evaluate the device at a workshop he taught in San Diego. “I was hoping for a positive response, but it exceeded what I expected,” he says. “I wasn’t expecting practitioners to ask if they could buy one or if I could come to their university to show them how the trainer can be used.” When Dr. Nitsche returned, he says, “We tinkered with things and made a few improvements.”

Then, on May 19, after months of work, Forsyth Tech and Wake Forest Innovations jointly introduced the ultrasound device at a press event held at the college. The next step for Wake Forest Innovations is to work with a company to license and manufacture the training simulator and to market it to hospitals.

Todd Bishop, department chair of Integrated Manufacturing at Forsyth Tech, is upbeat about future collaborations: “David and I have had a great relationship with people from Wake Forest, working on a variety of successful projects over the last 10 years. We look forward to more.”

The Community College That Could

Partner: IMG College

Forsyth Tech’s Broadcasting and Production Technology department exists today in part because of IMG College. The company – the biggest collegiate sports-marketing firm in the country – maintains a large audio broadcasting operation in Winston-Salem, contributing to the local economy.

When ISP Sports approached Forsyth Tech in 2009, the company needed an increasing number of qualified, part-time employees to produce broadcasts. They offered to collaborate with the college to create a broadcasting program. Soon after, IMG acquired ISP and decided to move all collegiate broadcast operations to Winston-Salem. After the acquisition, the company, which needed even more qualified candidates than ISP had previously, moved forward with the Forsyth Tech partnership to help fill the gap.

Radio broadcasting students at workThe college met the challenge, and in 2010 went into high gear, creating the Broadcasting and Production Technology program to provide skilled local talent to IMG, local radio and TV stations, and other content producers. Program coordinator Amy Davis-Moore, a broadcast industry veteran with more than 20 years experience in all aspects of radio production, marketing, sales and management, was tasked with getting the program off the ground.

From the very beginning, IMG collaborated with the college in significant ways. “They were very involved and very invested in our program,” Amy recalls. Several of the company’s employees served as adjunct instructors, and because Forsyth Tech’s broadcasting and production technology facilities were still in the planning stages, technical courses were held at IMG’s studios on Trade Street, using the company’s studios, editing equipment and software.

Today, more than five years after its debut, the Forsyth Tech program has its own state-of-the-art studios, equipment, software and labs in the Oak Grove Center and has just launched its own radio station, the FORSe (105.1 FM, WFOZ). IMG is still involved. “We now have IMG adjunct instructors who teach on campus,” explains Amy. The company also has two seats on the program’s advisory committee, bringing an industry perspective to the curriculum.

“From the college’s point of view, the relationship has been win-win,” she contends. “We have industry professionals teaching skills and, most importantly, application of those skills to our students.” Plus, the skills-based curriculum makes graduates highly employable. “We say: Here’s a checklist of skills you need to have when you graduate. When students leave, there should be a check in every box,” she emphasizes.

For its part, IMG is happy with the caliber of students emerging from the program. “We produce 35,000 hours of audio programming annually, and we continue to look for qualified people,” says David Shumate, director of Audio Operations for IMG. “We’ve hired one or two Forsyth Tech students or graduates every year for part-time positions. We now have 11 students or graduates working for us.” Students, too, view the arrangement positively, according to Randall Maynard, a 2014 graduate of the program.

Although he has settled on television as his medium (he’s now a videographer and video editor at WXII television, Channel 12), he appreciates the hands-on audio training he received from IMG instructors. “They taught us to be really precise with audio editing. You become a better editor than a lot of people in the field with bachelor’s degrees, because you’ve had more hands-on training,” maintains the alumnus, who is well on his way to a broadcasting career a year after graduation. Amy concurs, “The bottom line is that our students find jobs because they can say yes to a lot of skill sets.”

The Real Thing

Partner: Habitat for Humanity

Plumbing studentsForsyth Tech’s long-standing partnership with Habitat for Humanity, which began more than 15 years ago, was a natural fit from the start. It has also been one of its most gratifying. The organization’s job sites not only serve as an ideal training ground for students in the carpentry and plumbing programs, they also provide new homes for individuals in the community.

Plumbing Program Coordinator Matthew Beverly has adapted his teaching method to maximize the amount of time students spend at Habitat construction sites. He teaches skills that students immediately apply to a house under construction. “I can only simulate so much in the classroom,” he says. “But on-site, students take a brand new home and run a water line in and a sewer line out. a plumbing studentThey put in brand new plumbing throughout the house, call to get it inspected and meet with inspectors. They’re getting real-life experience.”

A crew of plumbing students can spend a total of two to three weeks on a house. “Because of the nature of what we do, our students can work on a number of houses throughout the year,” he observes. For carpentry students, who frame the entire structure, it’s a much longer process that can take months.

a man working on a house's plumbingBradley Parcell, owner of Piedmont Performance Plumbing, who attended Forsyth Tech over 10 years ago, says his on-the-job training while working on Habitat homes radically changed his job prospects. “After being laid off from a factory job, I went from unemployed to highly employable because of my trade skills,” he recalls. He also credits the program with giving him the confidence and ability to run a successful plumbing business. “As a traditional student, I took advantage of every opportunity to learn,” he says. He’s now come full circle: He’s able to hire Forsyth Tech graduates. “My advice is go into the program with resolve and absorb everything you can. I did, and I’ve never regretted it.”

A Committed Partnership That Keeps On Giving

Partner: Liberty Hardware

Ask a 10-year-old what she wants to do when she grows up and she probably won’t say, “work in global logistics.” But if Demetria Ledbetter has her way, that’s going to change. She wants to convince every high school, middle school and college student she meets that a career in global logistics is awesome.

The energetic program coordinator for Forsyth Tech’s Global Logistics Technology program is committed to deepening her program’s relationship with Liberty Hardware, a large distributor of bathroom fixtures and hardware. In addition, she strives to introduce students in the program, and high schoolers she hopes will soon enter the program, to the company’s complex system of transporting, distributing, tracking and warehousing goods.

To wrap your mind around global logistics, think sophisticated software systems for companies like Amazon, FedEx and Netflix that speed packages to your door overnight or within days, and send you computer-generated updates and recorded voice messages telling you when your order has shipped and estimating when you’ll receive it. Now transpose that scenario to a big retailer like Home Depot, linked to Liberty Hardware’s distribution system software so they can check on orders 24 hours a day. “Think of Liberty Hardware as a big hardware store for the commercial side,” Demetria suggests.

The program coordinator has encouraging moments, such as finding a partner like Liberty Hardware who is excited about giving students an understanding of global logistics like she is. Or when a high school girl who’s just toured Liberty Hardware with her class announces she no longer wants to study culinary arts, but Global Logistics Technology.

By broadening the definition of partnership to include outreach to high schools and middle schools, Forsyth Tech ensures students will continue to enter this behind-the-scenes field that drives our economy.

For the college overall, Dr. Green is a proponent of bureaucracy-free collaborations. He wants faculty and administrators to be able to take the initiative and respond to outreach from businesses and community members without getting bogged down in centralized reporting. “The free-flowing exchange of ideas and collaboration has worked well,” he says. “Let’s keep it that way.”