GO TEC, a program that began in Danville and Pittsylvania County with a goal of developing interest in manufacturing careers among students, particularly middle schoolers, has received additional funding to support its expansion into other regions of Virginia.
GO Virginia, a business-led economic development initiative that promotes regional collaboration and workforce development, awarded the program almost $3.5 million, according to a January news release.
Another $2.4 million in local and federal funds from partner organizations will match the GO Virginia award, making this the second largest award that GO TEC has received, said Julie Brown, vice president of advanced learning at Danville’s Institute for Advanced Learning and Research.
“We are very grateful for this investment, and it is an investment,” Brown said. “For GO Virginia, this is a long-term strategy.”
GO Virginia is investing in job creation in Virginia, a talent pipeline for the workforce, and economic development and industry, Brown said.
GO TEC, or Great Opportunities in Technology and Engineering Careers, introduces school-aged kids to these fields through hands-on equipment housed at labs in their schools.
The labs are equipped with virtual reality welding simulators, computer numerical control machines, 3D printers, laser cutters, hydroponic agriculture equipment and more.
With this grant, GO TEC will expand to more localities in the state, focusing on GO Virginia Regions 1, 4 and 5. Danville and Pittsylvania are in Region 3, and so are most of the GO TEC labs.
Today, GO TEC has labs in 25 middle schools across the state. The new funding will help the program reach its goal to be in 50 schools by 2025, a number that is “ambitious yet attainable,” Brown said.
Region 1, in far Southwest Virginia, will see GO TEC expand into school systems in Buchanan, Carroll, Grayson and Wythe counties.
In Region 4, in Central Virginia, the program will be in Dinwiddie, Greensville and Surry counties and the cities of Colonial Heights, Hopewell and Petersburg.
In Region 5, the greater Hampton Roads area, GO TEC will be in the cities of Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk and Portsmouth.
IALR oversees GO TEC in Region 3, but with the expansion into other areas of the state, more organizations will be brought on board.
“The Institute, we’ve got great partnerships and we’ve made connections across the commonwealth, but we may not be the best organization to drive that regional work in each of these additional places,” Brown said.
The grant provided funding for organizations within each region, dubbed In-Region Coordinating Entities, to become partners of the IALR and work to support teachers of the program in their area, among other roles.
In Region 1, the IRCE is United Way of Southwest Virginia. The IRCE in Region 4 is the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing, and in Region 5, it’s the Old Dominion University Research Foundation.
Each region chose its own coordinating entity, Brown said.
Mary Anne Holbrook, vice president of community impact for United Way of Southwest Virginia, said that Region 1 released a competitive request for proposals and applicants went through a pitch presentation and a question-and-answer panel.
Part of the role of the IRCEs is to be a liaison between the region and IALR, said Karen Sanzo, professor of educational leadership at Old Dominion University. But there will be a large focus on communicating with the individual school divisions that are implementing the program, too.
“We’ll be connecting with the four school divisions that we currently have as part of the grant, as well as providing opportunities for other school divisions to come and see the demonstration site and learn about the work that’s happening in middle schools,” Sanzo said. “Hopefully we’ll also help them implement GO TEC in their own middle schools.”
GO TEC’s mission dovetails nicely with the work that each IRCE is already doing, according to representatives from those organizations.
For example, the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing is already working to develop an advanced manufacturing ecosystem in Virginia, said its president and CEO, John Milton-Benoit.
“To do that, you have to educate kids as well,” he said. CCAM works with interns from universities and with students who have just finished high school.
But GO TEC will help the organization reach an untapped demographic in Region 4.
“The GO TEC program is really great because it helps address a different segment of the group that we want to educate,” Milton-Benoit said.
Each new region in the expansion will have a training lab, likely mirroring the one on IALR’s campus, where teachers will learn about and use the equipment before instructing students.
“We’re going to serve basically as the teacher of teachers,” Milton-Benoit said. “We will have a lab in place where folks from different schools from all around our community will come.”
All three regions have plans in place about where the training labs will be. In Region 1, the lab will be in Abingdon, Holbrook said. Region 4’s lab will be at the CCAM center, and in Region 5, it will be at Brooks Crossing Innovation and Opportunity Center in Newport News.
The expansion of the GO TEC program is important because it brings awareness to careers that students might not be familiar with, Milton-Benoit said.
“In order to get people working in the field, they have to choose to work in the field, and they’re not going to do that if they don’t know about it, or understand what the advantages are,” he said.
The earlier that kids know about these opportunities, the more informed they’ll be, he said, adding that the more people who enter into the field, the better the region will be.
Sanzo mentioned the need for workers in the near future in the Hampton Roads area, where the labor force has not returned to pre-pandemic levels, and has in fact shrunk by about 40,000 people, according to ODU’s annual economic forecast.
“We have a very real need to prepare students with workforce readiness, career readiness skills, and this helps our students get the exposure that’s necessary in middle school to think about next steps in high school and go into the career pathways,” Sanzo said. “I think [GO TEC] is going to be a game changer.”
And GO TEC’s expansion is also an important part of driving economic development initiatives in each of these regions, Holbrook said.
“Our hopes by bringing GO TEC to GO Virginia Region 1 are to serve as many classrooms, teachers, students, and businesses as possible, all toward developing skills that are marketable, in demand, and needed for jobs that are available in our region,” she said. “We’re excited to bring this to Region 1 as it’s becoming a statewide program. We’re thrilled.”