HAZARD – Big Sandy Community and Technical College President Dr. Devin Stephenson addressed Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler, Congressman Hal Rogers and a host of business leaders during a forum held at the First Federal Center on Monday, February 8.
“I am here to tell you there is a future in fiber,” Dr. Stephenson told the panel. “The old economy was connected by roads, bridges and rail… The new economy is connected by fiber.”
Dr. Stephenson highlighted the college’s Fiber Optic Training program, which is sanctioned by the Fiber Optics Association (FOA). The fast-track course allows for students to earn four certifications: Fiber Optic Technician, Certified Fiber Optic Specialist in Testing and Training, Certified Fiber Optic Specialist in Splicing and Outside Plant Cabling.
“It is fast-track training for high tech, high speed jobs,” added Dr. Stephenson.
He explained that the program directly correlates with the Kentucky Information Highway project, a proposal to bring world-class connectivity to eastern Kentucky. The decision to launch the fiber optics program was one of chance, but with chance comes opportunity, said Dr. Stephenson.
“We took a possibility and turned it into an opportunity,” explained Dr. Stephenson. Since its inception three months ago, the Fiber Optics program has attracted students from eight states. It has also allowed those displaced from the coal industry the opportunity to be retrained for a more sustainable career. “We have built hope, created promise, facilitated change and fast forwarded our region.”
BSCTC will break ground later this year on a $4.5 million Broadband Technology Center, the first of its kind in Kentucky. The state-of-the-art facility will serve as a hub for fiber optic training and allow the college to expand offerings in alignment with the needs of business and industry.
Dr. Stephenson addressed the need for better connectivity in eastern Kentucky. He described our region between “Iraq and a hard place,” noting that connectivity in Kentucky ranks between Iraq and Kuwait and that 23 percent of the state’s population does not have access to high-speed internet.
“We’ve stopped talking about it, and we’re building it,” said Dr. Stephenson. “We’re the doers, the opportunity seekers, the dreamcatchers, the change agents and the ambassadors that firmly believe the status quo is not good enough. However, we cannot do it alone. Collaboratively, we can build a region of promise, opportunity and relevance.”
Dr. Stephenson ended his presentation with a reference to the movie “Field of Dreams.”
“Kevin Costner’s character was told: ‘If you build it, they will come,’” he said. “We have built an expansive training program that will bring new business and industry; a groundswell of entrepreneurs; and the opportunity to level the playing field for our region to compete in the global, information-driven economy.”