Town Hall kick-off in the community center at West Georgia Technical College

October 7, 2014

Thursday, September 25, THINC held its Town Hall kick-off in the community center at West Georgia Technical College.

“The purpose of this meeting,” said Dr. Kathy Carlisle, THINC’s CEO, “is to understand the importance of a college and career academy from the perspective of those who work in these academies.” She stopped, smiled, and pointed to the table. “But first, we have a special guest: THINC’s Chief Robotics Officer.”

It rose on its own, its arms and legs squeaking as they stretched. In a high-pitched, robotic voice, with unbroken sentences, it said: “Hello everyone. I am the Chief Robotics Officer of THINC College and Career Academy. It is so very nice to have you all here.”

The audience cheered. This was no movie, no video game, no computer animation. This was NAO, THINC’s two foot humanoid. And he was here to open THINC’s Town Hall kick-off.

NAO

The meeting consisted of both lunch and a panel discussion. And, indeed, if understanding is what Dr. Carlisle sought, then her panel was well designed. On the panel was Steve Barker, Superintendent of Coweta County schools; Scott Cower, Superintendent of Carroll County schools; Greg Wright, President of Developmental Authority; Cindy Clanton, CEO Principal of Carroll County; Mark Whitlock, CEO of the College and Career Academy in Coweta (CEC); Cooper Goldbeck, CEC student and welding intern at Grenzebach Corporation; and Martin Pleyer, Vice President at Grenzebach Corporation.

“I remember when CEC—Coweta’s College and Career Academy—was first forming,” said Mark Whitlock. “Our biggest challenge was helping everyone understand why the academy was important. Fifteen years later, Coweta can show companies that we have the workforce needed to help staff a company.”

“Mark is right,” says Greg Wright, in response to his question—what are the economic reasons that a College and Career Academy makes sense for Coweta? “For years, companies searched for cities with better highway accessibility. But that changed years ago. Now, companies want cities with a better workforce.”

“For instance,” Wright continued, “a steel company wanted to relocate to Coweta some years ago. They vacillated, however, between Coweta and another county in South Carolina. One of the determining factors for this relocation was their ability to attract welders. So, I made a call to Mark, and in five minutes, we had a list of 51 students who graduated with a high school diploma and a welding certificate from CEC.”

Wright’s example is not without verification. Indeed, on the panel was Cooper Goldbeck, a welding student from CEC, and his new employer, Martin Pleyer of Grenzebech.

“I would not go to a high school for welding interns,” says Pleyer. “But I will go to CEC, because these students are committed to doing something extra, which drives their work and etiquette.”

Goldbeck affirmed this. “I didn’t learn well in a normal classroom. I wanted something more, something hands on, something physical. That’s why I went to CEC in the first place. Plus, I knew I would learn what I liked doing – welding. The teachers want to be at CEC. They want to teach you. And they will try everything they can to help you succeed.”

From Wright to Goldbeck, the overwhelming cry was the same: college and career academies strengthen a county’s workforce.

Not only do they strengthen the workforce, but also college and career academies help communities. In response to his question—how has the Carroll County College and Career Academy benefited its community?—Scott Cower answered: “For one, the community trusts our students. They’ve seen our college and career academy grow, they’ve seen new opportunities emerge, and they’ve seen students better prepared for college and the workforce. That trust has really solidified our partnership with the community.”

“In addition,” Cower continued, “our academy is seen as an economic development tool that can leverage growth within the community.”

As far as students go, college and career academies excite them. “I love the idea of THINC,” says Beth, who first learned of THINC through a teacher at Troup County High School. “I like to actually do stuff, you know, not just listen to lectures. Lectures aren’t bad. But I want to work with my hands.”

“Plus THINC will give us some freedom,” says Jacey, another student at Troup. “It feels like we’re college students.”

And this is exactly the kind of feeling THINC wants to instill: the feeling of freedom, of independent thought, of critical thinking, of learning.

“We want our students to graduate with more than just a degree,” says Kathy Carlisle. “We want them to approach employers with the soft skills and the thinking capacities to perfect their jobs.”