CHICAGO, Ill. – Representatives from Big Sandy Community and Technical College (BSCTC) and Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) gave a presentation entitled “There’s a Future in Fiber: Building a network of human capital and collaboration to transform Eastern Kentucky” at the 96th Annual American Association of Community Colleges convention in Chicago, Ill. on Monday.
Dr. Devin Stephenson, president of BSCTC; Kelli Hall, interim dean of career education and workforce development; and Jared Arnett, executive director of SOAR laid out the collaborative vision of the college, SOAR and other stakeholders to build a workforce that will compete and thrive in a global economy. Those in attendance included community college presidents, administrators and community and workforce development professionals.
BSCTC was the first college in Eastern Kentucky to develop a fiber optics training program sanctioned by the Fiber Optics Association. The program, delivered by internationally-recognized BDI DataLynk, offered three accelerated certifications initially – Certified Fiber Optics Technician, Certified Fiber Optics Specialists/Testing and Maintenance and Certified Fiber Optics Splicing Specialist. Earlier this year, the college added a fourth certificate – Certified Fiber Optic Specialist in Outside Plant Cabling.
“When we developed this program, we wanted to create fast-track training for high-speed jobs,” said Dr. Stephenson. “World-class connectivity will open our region up to the global economy and we have to be focused on equipping our students with world-class skills to thrive in this environment.”
The creation of the Fiber Optics program came on the heels of the announcement of the Kentucky I-Highway, or Kentucky Wired, in 2015. This expansive public/private partnership will bring world-class connectivity to eastern Kentucky. It is something that is desperately needed in the Commonwealth, which ranks between Iraq and Kuwait with just 23 percent of citizens having access to high-speed internet. That percentage is lower in eastern Kentucky.
In preparation of the installation of the Kentucky Wired project, the college put in place the Fiber Optics training program. Since its inception last summer, it has attracted students from 12 states and has placed a special emphasis on helping those who have been displaced by the decline of the coal industry.
“The best way to predict the future is to create it,” said Dr. Stephenson.
That motto drove the college to create the state’s first Broadband Technology associate degree program, which was approved by the Kentucky Community and Technical College board of regents in March. The program is the third of its kind in the United States.
To build human capital for a project of this magnitude, BSCTC will break ground later this year on the state’s first Advanced Technology Center. The $4.5 million LEED-certified structure will be the first building in the state to be a fiber-to-desk structure, fully embracing the potential of the Kentucky Wired project.
The college’s new Associate of Applied Science degree program will offer the following tracks: Broadband Technician, Broadband Telecommunications Installer and Broadband Design and Applications. Certificates offered within the program will include: Broadband Basic Installer, Broadband Support Technician, Broadband Telecommunications Installer, Broadband Cyber Security Technician and Broadband Technician Specialist.
Kelli Hall, interim dean of career education and workforce development, said the creation of the broadband technology program will allow students from eastern Kentucky to compete for jobs all across the globe.
“This will open the doors of opportunity throughout our region,” she said. “World-class connectivity levels the playing field for eastern Kentucky to thrive when it comes to community, workforce and economic development.”
Jared Arnett, executive director of SOAR, talked of his organization being a “conduit of ideas” that brings stakeholders together in a spirit of collaboration and innovation to bring jobs and opportunities to those in Eastern Kentucky.
“It takes a unified network of stakeholders, and I believe the Broadband Technology project at the college demonstrates what is possible when we all work together,” he said.