Wallace State Community College in Hanceville has been awarded a $9.5 million grant from the Department of Labor to fund a consortium of colleges including UAB, Central Alabama Community College, and Wallace State Community College-Selma with Wallace State-Hanceville as the lead institution and fiscal agent to advance learning through 3D and 4D technologies.

The focus of the grant program is Partnership for Accelerated Learning through Engagement, Visualization, and Simulation or PAVES. It was funded through the DOL Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Grants program, which selected 32 programs for funding nationwide.

The PAVES program aims to increase the attainment of degrees, certificates, and other industry recognized credentials to fill middle skill and skilled jobs in Advanced Manufacturing, Allied Health, Public Safety, and Transportation. This program will also build capacity across the PAVES colleges to recruit, enroll and retain Trade Adjustment Assistant (TAA) impacted workers (those who have become unemployed due to the impact of international trade), Veterans and their spouses, and other nontraditional students, and provide them with student supports and distance learning opportunities, including courses with advanced simulation and visualization learning objects.

Currently these students lack training and support options to properly train them in the cutting edge technical knowledge and critical soft skills necessary for stable employment.

PAVES will deploy program strategies (including the development of new 3D/4D visualization and simulation learning objects), providing crit ical supports, expanded training and enhanced technology options to accelerate progress through certificate and degree programs that result in high-wage, stable jobs in growing industries and occupations across north and central Alabama.

“As I am sure you will agree, due to the recent natural disasters in this region, the training opportunities provided through this project are critical in order to provide vital assistance to those unemployed as a result of business, farms, and industries damaged or destroyed,” stated U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions in a letter of support for the project.

The program’s priorities include accelerating progress for low skilled and other workers; improving retention and achievement rates and/or reducing time to completion; building programs that meet industry needs, including developing career pathways; and strengthening online and technology enabled learning.

Opportunities provided through this program, including distance learning courses and those with advanced simulation and visualization learning objects, will enable 2,655 students to improve practical skills linked directly to industry requirements. Approximately 140 new visualization and simulation 3D/4D learning objects will be created by the PAVES Advanced Visualization Centers, assisted by the expertise of the UAB Enabling Technology Lab. A learning object is any object that can be utilized by a teacher or student to enhance the learning process on any given subject or topic. For instance, the Advanced Visualization Center may enhance a 2D flat/picture or object — a heart, for instance — and recreate it into a 3D real or virtual object that can be manipulated by the learner. Most learning objects will be distributed throughout the Alabama Community College System and available via distance learning, making them broadly accessible.

According to State Rep. Jeremy Oden, who was instrumental in acquiring funding for the Wallace State Advanced Visualization Center, which opened last year, this grant and the joint efforts of the partners will be a phenomenal asset to Wallace State and the region. It puts Wallace State at the forefront of educational technology. The grant will help to support the continuing work of the AVC.

Prior learning assessments will help 300 students gain 1,800 college level credits for nontraditional learning (e.g. on the job, military, volunteer activities), providing incentives to attend or return to school, lower costs of attendance and accelerate progress toward completion. Student coaching services will provide critical non-academic supports to help 2,850 students plan for successful career pathways, balance school with work and family responsibilities, and help them take full advantage of other available student services. Expanded distance learning options will give 1,400 students more flexibility to earn credentials, increasing skills while reducing time to completion and reducing the costs associated with attending college.

“This grant will provide training for our new and expanding industries and address skills shortages of employees who have been recently laid off,” said Dale Greer, Assistant Director of the Cullman Economic Development Agency. Wallace State and the Cullman community lie along the southern corridor, which is a hub for the transportation industry. The addition of new training programs in logistics, distribution and diesel technology will address a shortage of qualified workers in these and other areas.

Grant activities will take place in 17 Alabama counties including Autauga, Blount, Chilton, Clay, Coosa, Cullman, Dallas, Elmore, Lowndes, Marshall, Morgan, Perry, Shelby, Talladega, Tallapoosa, Wilcox and Winston County.

Project partners include USA Healthcare, Inc.; AmTech, LLC; Alabama Criminal Justice Training Center; My Way Transportation; Alabama Governor’s Office for Workforce Development; Alabama Community College System (ACCS); Alabama’s Regional Workforce Councils in Regions Two, Five and Six; and Alabama One Stop Centers in Alexander City, Cullman and Selma.

Wallace State President, Dr. Vicki Hawsey, said “This project is focused on meeting the shortage of middle skills workers in this state and this consortium is an excellent example of what can be accomplished through partnerships that leverage scarce resources and human capital. We are excited about the investment in Alabama’s future.”

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