Staying Ahead Of The Innovation Curve: The Future Is Now
Like every community college in North Carolina, Forsyth Tech receives most of its funding from the state and county. But the combined revenue from these sources isn’t sufficient to cover the college’s financial needs. To ensure that students are educated and trained in upgraded facilities, using state-of-the-art technology and equipment, Forsyth Tech requires extra funding.
“We’re often asked why we need extra money,” says Dr. Gary Green. “The perception is that the revenue we receive from the state and the county is sufficient to cover our operating expenses. While state and county revenue is absolutely critical, additional sources of private and public funding are what make it possible for us to continually reinvest in the college and our students. Without bond referendums, corporate partnerships, and support from the Forsyth Tech Foundation and private donations, we would not be able to train students on the latest equipment using the most recent technology, so that they’re ready to enter the workforce.”
Dr. Green cites the recently passed NC Connect state bond referendum as an example of a funding measure that will allow the college to renovate facilities on Main Campus, and bring technical education to Stokes County. Additionally, the proposed Forsyth County bond the college hopes will be approved by Forsyth County Commissioners during the upcoming November election will help expand the college’s automotive and transportation programs and equip them with state-of-the-art facilities. If approved by the County Commissioners and voters, the county bond will also provide new training facilities near Smith-Reynolds Airport in Winston-Salem for the growing aviation sector. What’s more, the proposed bond will enable the college to build new classrooms, labs and clinical spaces, and to upgrade technologies used in training students in healthcare, IT, security and manufacturing. The college also relies on corporate partnerships for support in the form of contributions and gifts in kind. In addition, the Foundation provides financial assistance for students as well as for faculty training.
“We must be proactive when it comes to staying abreast of workplace and economic change,” maintains Dr. Green. “This requires continually investing in facilities and technology that are unique to community colleges.”
Over Forsyth Tech’s 56-year history, the college has developed a symbiotic relationship with local employers. As economic patterns shift, technology advances and companies’ needs become more sophisticated, Forsyth Tech responds by reconfiguring its educational and training offerings. “We constantly keep an eye on the future so we can anticipate new, innovative programming and equipment requirements,” says Dr. Green. “We proactively track industry trends and listen to what local employers tell us they need so we can offer the competitive workforce training our students require to be successful.”
Although keeping pace with change is a taxing and time-consuming process, the greatest challenge for Forsyth Tech is financial. The college must continually fund advanced equipment, technology and facilities and simultaneously give faculty, who are top professionals in their fields, the latest instructional tools, techniques and technology available. “Producing the highly skilled employees the market demands requires costly equipment that state and county funds alone can’t cover,” Dr. Green states. “If we’re not training students for jobs that don’t yet exist, then we’re already lagging behind. Staying ahead of the innovation curve takes money.”
The following four programs offer insight into how Forsyth Tech maintains its forward momentum by incorporating innovative, trend-setting ideas into student instruction, and why the cost is money well spent.
On an overcast Thursday in April, the corridors in Bob Greene Hall, Forsyth Tech’s Nursing and Allied Sciences Building on Main Campus, are quiet. Then, as four white-coat-clad nursing students enter a classroom, a woman covered in blood screams. The students, along with 15 of their classmates, are participating in a mass casualty experience set in motion by a fictional campus shooter. While a Forsyth Tech nursing instructor monitors how well the students execute emergency protocols, they simulate caring for the wounded in an emergency situation.
“In today’s world, our students must already know how to apply their skills and training when they enter the workforce. These emergency scenarios, in which we train students to think and respond in a certain way, are a key training tool,” explains Jean Middleswarth, director of Health Services.
In response to the collaborative, patient-focused philosophy revolutionizing healthcare delivery, Forsyth Tech’s well-regarded nursing program must duplicate what’s happening in hospitals, medical practices and pharmacies. “Healthcare specialties no longer work in silos,” explains Jean. “Practitioners work side by side in interdisciplinary teams, complementing each other’s specialty practices.”
As a result of these changes in the field, Forsyth Tech is creating a simulated hospital training environment on campus, where all relevant equipment and technology can coexist in one place. “We have outgrown our space in Bob Greene Hall,” Jean says. “To ensure we keep pace with the industry, we need to update our technology and equipment and renovate our space to provide students with real-world clinical experience in the classroom. This is the kind of expert knowledge local healthcare providers have come to expect from our students.”
Manufacturing in the Digital Age
We live in an age that some are calling the Third Industrial Revolution. Rather than mass-producing products, manufacturers can now design on a computer and “manufacture” by creating objects on a 3-D printer, building up successive layers of material in a process known as additive manufacturing.
“We are applying for a grant to create a state-of-the-art additive manufacturing lab here at Forsyth Tech,” says Todd Bishop, program coordinator for the Mechanical Engineering Technology/Drafting & Design program. “Even though the additive manufacturing process has been around for 100 years, we now have at our fingertips additive manufacturing equipment that is capable of producing engineering-grade, end-use parts. These machines are revolutionizing the manufacturing sector.”
According to Todd, an additive manufacturing lab will increase students’ ability to produce projects on Forsyth Tech’s campus that up until now have only been possible through cost-prohibitive outsourcing. “Additive manufacturing will strengthen our capabilities and bolster our collaborative efforts with outside industry partners,” Todd says.
“We hope to purchase seven 3-D printers that offer a range of functions, including the ability to print on different materials,” explains Todd. “One machine can print on six different nonmetal materials, such as plastic, rubber and wood-like surfaces, and in 360,000 color variations. These machines are amazing!” Students who receive training in maintaining and operating the lab will assist any student, faculty member or staff member on campus who wishes to utilize the sensitive equipment.
“Here at Forsyth Tech, our Biotechnology and Digital Effects and Animation programs can also benefit from the availability of additive technologies. In anticipating where these fields are headed, we want to be sure our students are trained to be excellent resources for local employers, contributing to the growth of additive manufacturing in our region.”
Advanced manufacturing doesn’t apply just to engineering technologies. It now has applications in the biosciences, including nanotechnology and biotechnology. “It’s exciting to see how additive manufacturing is being used to develop surgical devices with complex geometry that would be nearly impossible to create with traditional machining and manufacturing techniques,” Todd says.
Forging Ahead in the Biosciences
Michael Ayers, dean of the Math, Science and Technologies division, understands the new applications of advanced manufacturing. He is working on obtaining funding to outfit a clean room, shared by several science programs, that keeps dust and microorganisms out to prevent contamination. “In the biosciences, manufacturing can involve creating living and nonliving materials on extremely small levels,” Michael says. “An example of nonliving manufacturing would be taking a wafer of material and etching it to create a micron-sized microcircuit. To give you an idea of scale, a human hair is around 75 microns,” he explains.
“In contrast, living manufacturing processes can involve engineering tissues and organs using 3-D printing technology. We can use the printer to create a mold, then place stem cells in the mold in order to grow tissue and organs,” says Michael.
He hopes to obtain enough money to purchase such things as atomic force microscopes, scanning electron microscopes, nanofabrication equipment, a freezer that drops to minus 80 degrees Celsius, tissue culture equipment, 3-D printers and a special safety cabinet to house a powerful acid used to etch wafers (a single drop can penetrate through all floors of a five-story building).
In what sounds like science fiction, Michael predicts it’s only a matter of time before we have the ability to create a chip that contains enough patient-specific information to create body parts. “We’ll be able to hand the chip off to a lab to grow a liver for that individual. This technology will eventually eliminate organ donor waiting lists.” Clearly, advances of this kind require high-tech equipment and highly trained faculty. “We are training our students today for jobs that don’t even yet exist. As lab technicians, our grads will be capable of supporting futuristic research and help bring as-yet-nonexistent products to market,” he speculates.
“If we want to attract high-tech companies to Winston- Salem, we must be able to provide them with a skilled workforce,” Michael says. “What’s more, because our students will be highly trained, they will receive higher wages, which will increase the local tax base and improve the local economy. This is how we measure success.”
Taking Design Technology into the Future
The design industry in our area is growing and changing with advances in technology. The challenge for Forsyth Tech is how to educate enough students to fill existing job openings while trying to innovate and expand to meet future needs. This is an issue that Todd Shoaf, program coordinator for the Architecture program, struggles with almost on a daily basis.
“In the past two years, our Architecture Technology program has received an increasing number of inquiries from area architecture, construction and design-related firms for qualified employees to fill openings,” says Todd. “These companies not only request our graduates – they request our students who have yet to graduate! They seek out Forsyth Tech because they know the quality of our students and our programs.”
For the past five years, Forsyth Tech Architecture program teams have placed first and second in a state design competition that includes two- and four-year schools, earning the program a reputation for excellence. “We are proud of the talent our students display, but we’re now at a point at which we need a critical upgrade in advanced technology and equipment,” explains Todd.
He has requested funding for 3-D laser scanners that will allow students to scan whole rooms, building elevations and built environments. The program also needs new computer work stations and monitors with the processing power to effectively interface with 3-D design and scanner software. And Todd has requested a large-format printer/scanner to provide higher-quality prints. He also hopes that architecture students will have access to 3-D printers on campus that parallel technology they’ll find in the workplace.
“The investment we need to make in our Architecture program is based on the changing employment landscape: To meet employers’ demands, students must be prepared for advances in digital data documentation, visualization, 3-D printing and rapid prototyping,” Todd explains.
“Our success rate speaks for itself. More than 90 percent of our graduates find work in the profession or go on to complete their bachelor’s degree. With these kinds of results, we have to do all we can to maintain our extremely high standards.”
The Power of Community
Forsyth Tech has worked hard to establish its reputation for educational and training excellence. But to maintain that level of achievement while preparing students for the jobs of tomorrow requires financial support from many sources – state, county, corporate partners, bond referendums and private donors.
By minimizing barriers to postsecondary education, opening doors to high-quality educational opportunities, maximizing student success, developing a highly skilled workforce, and improving the lives and well-being of individuals, the college makes a substantial contribution to the community. But to do so, it asks the community to invest in the college.
“An investment in Forsyth Tech is an investment in the future of our community and in the lives of all our students,” sums up Dr. Green. “There’s no sounder investment.”