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STEAM Innovation Festival postponed

The Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics (STEAM) Innovation Festival scheduled for Saturday, March 14, has been postponed out of an abundance of caution in light of COVID-19 (coronavirus). Virginia Western Community College, in collaboration with The Alliance for Excellence and DEILAB plan to reschedule this fun and informative event for children in grades K-8 later this year.

New grant will help expand registered apprenticeship program

The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) has awarded Virginia Western Community College a $140,000 grant to support the expansion of registered apprenticeship opportunities to help students gain a quality education in addition to on-the-job training in a rewarding career. 

Virginia Western is one of 66 colleges in the country selected for the Expanding Community College Apprenticeship (ECCA) initiative, led by AACC with funding from the U.S. Department of Labor to increase the number of registered apprentice programs and services throughout the country. The ECCA project will be conducted over three years. Participating colleges were competitively selected, and will serve 12,000 of the 16,000 total registered apprenticeships.

Virginia Western will collaborate with local businesses and industries to train more than 150 apprentices in in-demand areas with focuses on advanced manufacturing and healthcare. Efforts will eventually expand to include construction/building trades, hospitality, IT, finance and business, telecommunications and agriculture.

Regional workforce, economic development, and industry leaders collaborated with key personnel at Virginia Western on Tuesday morning at the college’s Apprenticeship Program Kick-Off meeting. The group of attendees all acknowledged the need to bring more local awareness to the value of registered apprenticeships in high-demand occupations and agreed to take an active role in a multi-agency apprenticeship advisory group.

“Creating a sustainable apprenticeship program will increase the pipeline of skilled workers in the Roanoke region,” said Jill Loope, Director of Economic Development for Roanoke County. “Apprenticeship is a time-tested approach to training and developing a skilled workforce, resulting in increased productivity, retention and performance for an employer’s bottom line. With regional sights set on talent development, grant money will fuel an apprenticeship program that solidifies sustainable solutions for employers, creates more opportunity for workers, and promotes the value of skill development in high-demand industries.”

“Virginia Western is committed to developing a quality apprenticeship program that will create gainful and sustainable pipelines of opportunities capable of transforming lives,” added Dr. Milan Hayward, Vice President of Virginia Western’s School of Career and Corporate Training (CCT). “The apprenticeship program, coordinated through our Hall Associates Career Center, will support strong career pathways that lead to employment. As we continue to expand our connections with business and industry partners and take an active role in registered apprenticeship programs, the regional community and economic impacts will be significant.”

In addition to offering two-year degree and one-year certificate programs, CCT, formerly known as Workforce Development Services, offers short-term training programs that lead to industry recognized credentials and certifications. CCT programs that will have an immediate growth in apprenticeship opportunities include Pharmacy Technician, Medical Assisting, Certified Nursing Assistant, Machining and Advanced Manufacturing.

For additional information regarding apprenticeship training or sponsor partnership opportunities, please contact Sadie Remington, Virginia Western’s apprenticeship coordinator, at mremington@virginiawestern.edu.

Fralin Futures scholarship recipients tour Fralin Biomedical Research Institute

Virginia Western Community College students who received the first-ever Fralin Futures STEM-H Scholarship were invited to tour the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC on Nov. 22, 2019. Executive Director Dr. Michael J. Friedlander met with the students and described the Research Institute’s target areas and the varied jobs that will support the Roanoke facility as it expands in 2020.

Research Institute doctoral students later met with the Fralin scholarship recipients and offered advice on transferring to four-year schools and pursuing doctoral degrees in research-oriented fields.

The tour was one of several cohort activities scheduled in 2019-20 for the Fralin scholarship recipients. The scholarship is administered by the Virginia Western Community College Educational Foundation. Applications for the 2020 scholarship cycle will be available in March 2020 at virginiawestern.edu/scholarship.

New STEM Building is a hub of collaboration

(Published in the Winter 2020 Edition of IMPACT magazine, a publication of the Virginia Western Community College Educational Foundation.)

By Karenna Glover

Returning students in the STEM program at Virginia Western Community College didn’t recognize their learning space when classes began in Fall 2019. The new contemporary classrooms filled with TV monitors, modular furniture and the most modern equipment were a far cry from the classrooms in 50-year-old Anderson Hall, with its traditional wooden desks, chalkboards and projectors.

The new 72,000-square-foot space houses many of  Virginia Western’s programs for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), and is now the single largest building on the Colonial Avenue campus. The building and its state-of-the-art equipment represent what STEM Dean Amy White has envisioned to provide students the most ideal learning environment and prepare them for long-lasting careers.

Amy White, Virginia Western’s Dean of STEM

“To me, the building is about preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist,” White said. “The space allows them to focus on critical thinking, problem-solving skills and communications skills. (But) it’s not about the equipment. It’s not about the buttons on the machine. It’s about why the buttons are on the machine, and how the students can solve problems using the latest and greatest equipment.”

Building construction by Branch & Associates began in 2016, but design of the space began years earlier, and input from faculty and students is woven throughout the four-story building.

“Who knows better what students need than the faculty? The space was designed with an understanding of what works best for students and how they learn and engage,” White said.

Alif Hill, a second-year mechatronics major, was excited to see the building open and was deeply invested in the space, as he offered suggestions on the design and selection of some equipment in the new Fab Lab, including new 3-D printers. “The new building feels personal. I feel like a kid on Christmas, with all new toys,” Hill said. “I’m so excited to use the new equipment in the space.”

Alif Hill, mechatronics major (center), demonstrates equipment in the new Fab Lab.

Tucked in the corners of each floor is space dedicated for student study, both independent and collaborative, as well as an office for walk-in tutoring where students can get peer-to-peer tutoring.

Classrooms in the $37 million facility were designed to be open and flexible, allowing students and faculty to easily move from lecture-style learning to group-work. White boards cover the walls and 80-inch TV monitors mounted in corners replace traditional chalkboards.

“It may sound simple and small, but I’m excited with how the seats are arranged in the new building,” said Assistant Professor of Mechatronics David Berry, noting the more open space with movable tables and chairs. “I hope it will allow me to reach my students in a better way. The new space offers us a chance to all work together, where everyone can touch things and collaborate.”

Assistant Professor of Mechatronics David Berry (right) talks to community members during the STEM Building grand opening in October 2019.

This concept of collaboration offered by the new space extends beyond the faculty and students to the community. Virginia Western leaders envision other students at other colleges, community organizations and companies across the region using both the space and new equipment. The new biotechnology suite may draw use from students and faculty from the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC to utilize new microscopes that they may not have or when use of their own equipment is overtaxed. Startup companies across the region who may not have access to state-of-the-art equipment could also partner with VWCC to access the equipment.

“I really see it as a way to network and engage with community partners and local industries,” said Stacie Deaver, Program Head of Biotechnology Career Studies Certificate. “This could be an avenue to open opportunities for the science economy in the area.”

Entering the new Fab Lab on the first floor, you can immediately see the incorporation of real-world environment. The black-painted ceiling and cement floor offer an industrial design to the space. A garage door allows for additions of large equipment like a robot or over-sized machine for students to work on. It also extends the Lab to the outdoors with a patio offering students outdoor space and gives visibility to the activity to those passing by on Colonial Avenue.

Tapping into industries and understanding the current and future needs for employment and skills has been a long-term goal of the STEM program, and the new space reflects this commitment.   

Wages and employment opportunities are known to be higher in STEM fields. According to the Pew Research Center, the average full-time STEM worker earns $54,575, or 26% more than a non-STEM worker.

“Through our community partnerships, we are able to offer access to an employable workforce both to existing industries and those looking to come to the area,” said White. “We see great opportunity to increase the visibility of the employability of our students through current and future partnerships.”

Leaders across the community agree that the new building and equipment will better prepare VWCC students and offer them greater employment opportunities.

“Harnessing innovation is essential to a forward-thinking institution — and that’s what Virginia Western makes possible,” said Neil D. Wilkin Jr., CEO of Optical Cable Corp. and Chair of the Virginia Western Community College Educational Foundation. “With the opening of its new STEM facility, the College is poised to meet our region’s business and community needs with invention, flexibilty and an eye to what comes next.”

Engineering Professor Rick Clark demonstrates the Scanning Electron Microscope in the Characterization Lab during the STEM Building grand opening in October 2019.

New equipment in the STEM Building includes:

  • Phase Contrast Fluorescence Microscope: Detects the presence of materials, such as protein, and identifies the location of materials in relation to other structures in a cell or tissue.
  • Multiphoton Confocal Microscope: Provides high-resolution fluorescent imaging of cellular processes or other materials and generates 3D images of structures using laser scanning to improve resolution.
  • Scanning Electron Microscope: Provides visibility at 250 to 500 times the magnification of most light microscopes, with focused electron beams to show detailed features of samples and composition and topography information.  This microscope allows visualization at the nanometer level.
  • 4 new spectrometers: Used in analytical chemistry to determine information about an object or substance, these sophisticated instruments employ a variety of methods to identify and characterize materials and molecules.  
  • Collaborative Robot: Much like industrial robots that are common in manufacturing, the largest difference between the two is that collaborative robots are designed to safely work with human operators rather than in lieu of operators. The robot can easily be taught new processes and tasks as operators or operations change, without safety concerns.  
The Imagination Lab features a 24-foot tilting, recirculating hydraulic flume that simulates river water flow.

Grand Opening commemorates new STEM Building

Virginia Western Community College welcomed community members from across the Roanoke Region to celebrate the Grand Opening of its new $37-million STEM Building on Thursday. More than 300 attendees heard from local elected officials, business leaders and students about the impact the new facility will have on growing the local economy through collaboration and innovation.

“This building will drive our region forward in the fields of STEM and health professions,” said Dr. Robert H. Sandel, President of Virginia Western. “It will be the home of innovation and the next bright idea. It will help the Commonwealth of Virginia continue to be one of the best places in America to do business.”

The Grand Opening event had a student-focused feel as recent alumni introduced each of the speakers and shared details on how their STEM education at Virginia Western has impacted them. Following the speakers’ portion, faculty members showed attendees the facility, labs and the cutting-edge new equipment.

“To me, the building is about preparing students for jobs that don’t exist yet,” said Amy White, Dean of STEM. “The space allows them to focus on critical thinking, problem-solving skills and communication skills. It’s not about the equipment. It’s not about the buttons on the machine. It’s about why the buttons are on the machine, and how the students can solve problems using the latest and greatest equipment.”

Speakers such as Delegate Terry Austin, Roanoke City Mayor Sherman Lea, Roanoke businessman W. Heywood Fralin and Richard Farthing of Virginia’s Community Colleges spoke about how investment in higher education, and STEM in particular, will continue to drive the region’s economic growth.

“One of the most important players in this [region’s] movement to a knowledge-based economy is Virginia Western Community College. Its growth not only in size but also in stature has been remarkable and this growth has focused on quality,” said Fralin, a member of the Virginia Western Educational Foundation Board of Directors. “There has been a recent focus on recruiting top business leaders throughout the region to serve on the Foundation’s Board of Directors, and [the college’s recent] accomplishments are a result of the leadership of the outstanding administration of Virginia Western Community College and the Foundation Board of Directors which has included visionaries like the late Charles Steger. Together they have produced for this region one of the best community colleges in the entire system. Needless to say, we are proud of Virginia Western Community College.”

Programs that will be located in the STEM Building include Mechatronics, Engineering, Biology, Chemistry, Biotechnology, Physics and Mathematics. New cutting-edge equipment includes a phase contrast fluorescence microscope, a multiphoton confocal microscope, a scanning electron microscope, four new spectrometers, process control units, a 5 axis CNC milling machine, a 24-foot water flume and a collaborative robot.

To view photos from the Grand Opening, visit: https://www.facebook.com/pg/VirginiaWestern/photos/?tab=album&album_id=10156162237936534.

To find out more about Virginia Western’s STEM programs, visit www.virginiawestern.edu/academics or call (855) 874-6690.

Join us for free talk from national STEM speaker Deanne Bell

Virginia Western Community College invites the public to attend a free talk on Wednesday, Oct. 9 by national expert Deanne Bell on science and technology careers that are far from boring. From her work with NASA to travels in Tibet, Bell has had experiences in a wide range of innovative and STEM careers.

Bell is an engineer, television host and the founder of FutureEngineers.org, a platform that hosts national invitation challenges for students. She received a B.S. in mechanical engineering from Washington University in St. Louis.

Prior to becoming a TV host, Deanne designed opto-mechanics for military aircraft sensors and worked as a senior application engineer for a CAD software startup in Boston.

In 2006, Deanne took her first job in television as a co-host for the Peabody Award winning children’s series, Design Squad. She is currently a co-host for CNBC’s ‘Make Me a Millionaire Inventor, and her previous hosting credits include ESPN, Discovery Channel, National Geographic, and DIY Network.

In 2014, Deanne founded Future Engineers, which hosted its inaugural challenge in partnership with NASA and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Foundation. Students were asked to create a digital 3D model of a space tool, and the winning design is being 3D printed aboard the International Space Station.

WHAT: STEM talk by national expert Deanne Bell

WHEN: 1 p.m., Wednesday, October 9

WHERE: Whitman Theater, Virginia Western Campus (Directions and parking)

COST: Free and open to the public

Virginia Western opens new STEM Building

Virginia Western Community College opened its new STEM Building to students on Monday, August 26, at a ribbon cutting ceremony to unveil the state-of-the-art equipment and contemporary classrooms with a focus on collaboration. The new 72,000-square-foot facility, dedicated to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, is the largest on campus and was designed with input from faculty and staff to best serve the region’s growing needs.

“This amazing new facility is the result of many years of dedicated, hard work and forethought,” said Dr. Robert H. Sandel, President of Virginia Western. “We expect it to be a destination for students and industry partners who are interested in getting ahead in the region’s growing, STEM-focused economy. It is designed to adapt to our community’s needs and we are so thrilled to show it off.”

Classrooms in the $37 million facility were designed to be open and flexible, allowing students to seamlessly move from a lecture-style setting to group work. White boards cover the walls along with 80-inch TV monitors to replace the traditional chalkboards and projectors that were present in the School of STEM’s former home, Anderson Hall, which was more than 50 years old.

“We want to prepare students for careers that are available now and those that don’t even exist yet,” said Amy White, Dean of STEM. “They will have opportunities to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills that will serve them well in whichever field they pursue. Hands-on learning is central to all that we do, and this facility will encourage that in every discipline. Our hope is that this building will not only educate, but also motivate and inspire all the students we serve.”

Programs that will be located in the STEM Building include Mechatronics, Engineering, Biology, Chemistry, Biotechnology, Physics and Mathematics. New cutting-edge equipment includes a phase contrast fluorescence microscope, a multiphoton confocal microscope, a scanning electron microscope, four new spectrometers, process control units, a 5 axis CNC milling machine, a 24-foot water flume and a collaborative robot.

A new grassy courtyard between the STEM Building, the Strauss Family Student Life Center and Webber Hall will be a hive for student activity. It is designed to blend beautifully with the Colonial Avenue streetscape, which is slated to be complete before the end of 2019.

To find out more about Virginia Western’s STEM programs, visit www.virginiawestern.edu/academics or call (855) 874-6690.

By the Numbers
• 44 miles of communication cable
• 217 computers
• 103 TV monitors
• 70 white boards
• 12 wet labs (an increase of 5 on campus)

New Equipment
• Phase Contrast Fluorescence Microscope: Detects the presence of materials, such as protein, and identifies the location of materials in relation to other structures in a cell or tissue.
• Multiphoton Confocal Microscope: Provides high-resolution fluorescent imaging of cellular processes or other materials and generates 3D images of structures using laser scanning to improve resolution.
• Scanning Electron Microscope: Provides visibility at 250 to 500 times the magnification of most light microscopes, with focused electron beams to show detailed features of samples and composition and topography information. This microscope allows visualization at the nanometer level.
• 4 new spectrometers: Used in analytical chemistry to determine information about an object or substance, these sophisticated instruments employ a variety of methods to identify and characterize materials and molecules.
• Collaborative Robot: Much like industrial robots that are common in manufacturing, the largest difference between the two is that collaborative robots are designed to safely work with human operators rather than in lieu of operators. The robot can easily be taught new processes and tasks as operators or operations change, without safety concerns.

Top 5 STEM programs of study at Virginia Western
• Mechatronics
• Engineering
• Biology/Chemistry/Biotechnology
• Computer Science and Information Technology
• Health Sciences

Local tech company with VWCC connections partners with NASA

When scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) capture future pictures of Earth’s atmosphere, they might end up using technology containing components manufactured by former Virginia Western Community College faculty and students. 

Based in Fincastle, Va., Micro Harmonics Corporation (MHC) is a technology company that specializes in the creation of millimeter-wave components. The parts created by the company allow users to access higher frequencies in the electromagnetic spectrum, and can be used for a number of scientific and commercial purposes. For example, automated cars, 5g wireless broadband access and airport security scanners all utilize millimeter-wave technology. The components are also used by NASA for a number of applications, including in the instruments that capture images of the Earth’s ozone layer.

“We’ve been working under NASA funding through various contracts for the past four years,” MHC chief executive officer David Porterfield said. “NASA’s been a big pusher of all these technologies.”

Founded in 2008, MHC is headed by Porterfield and his sister, former Virginia Western professor Diane Kees. She taught engineering and mechatronics classes before joining the company full time in 2017. Since acquiring a NASA small business innovation research grant worth $750,000, Porterfield and Kees have worked diligently to develop millimeter-wave components that can be used by commercial enterprises and government agencies alike.

The company recently won an additional two-year contract worth $750,000 from NASA to further develop some of its products; that money will be used, in part, to develop components that can function at cryogenic temperatures. So far, MHC has hired three graduates of Virginia Western’s Mechatronics Systems Engineering Technology program to work in its Fincastle laboratory.

“We actually offer tuition reimbursement to employees,” Kees said. “We try to keep our students in school so they’ll complete the mechatronics program.”

Kees, who continued working at Virginia Western for two years after joining MHC, said that the company has had an easy time recruiting talented students. The demand for millimeter-wave technology is expected to grow by 40 percent each year over the next seven years, and its applications will only expand with time.

“When I was teaching at (Virginia) Western and … I mentioned that we first got the contract through NASA JPL, all my students’ jaws dropped,” Kees said. “That was so exciting for them, that we got a contract with the Jet Propulsion Lab at NASA.”

The company is also looking for opportunities to improve their marketing and sales strategies. In May 2019, MHC was one of six companies to be accepted to the Regional Acceleration and Mentoring Program (RAMP), a Southwest Virginia business accelerator that helps science, technology, engineering, math and health (STEM-H) companies test the viability and marketability of their products. That yearlong program has provided MHC with access to a number of business experts in the area, as well as with $20,000 in seed capital. 

“The RAMP program is helping us in that transition to become a viable commercial business,” Kees said. “In the meantime, we’re still working with NASA. They like what we’ve given them, and they’re giving us more contracts.”

Porterfield said that as the company continues to expand its product offerings, it will seek out more talented employees, particularly through the mechatronics program at Virginia Western.

“We’re small now. We’re only five full-time employees and a part-time consultant who lives in the area,” Porterfield said. “But I could see us growing pretty rapidly.”

VWCC Educational Foundation launches innovative Fralin Futures scholarship program

In a recent survey of incoming Virginia Western Community College students, 92 percent reported they planned to work while pursuing their degree. Nearly a third expected to log at least 20 hours a week, on top of tackling a full-time or near full-time class load.

Those financial realities prompted the Virginia Western Community College Educational Foundation to create an innovative scholarship program that aims to couple full tuition support with living-expense stipends, career-focused cohort activities, mentorships and additional degree-completion incentives. The intent is to remove common obstacles facing community college students and to help them cross the “finish line” to graduation.

Students may apply for the Fralin Futures STEM-H Scholarship through May 1, 2019. To be eligible, they must be within two semesters of graduating from Virginia Western as of fall 2019, enrolled in a STEM-H program of study and maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA. The College expects to enroll 10 recipients, called Fralin Futures Scholars, as a pilot program in fall 2019 – not long after a new $30 million STEM building opens on campus.

The Fralin Futures STEM-H Scholarship program is made possible by a $5 million gift from the Horace G. Fralin Charitable Trust. The donation, initiated in 2013, remains the largest-ever single gift to the College, and the largest donation dedicated solely to scholarships in the history of the Virginia Community College System. It established an endowment that will benefit generations of Roanoke region students who seek careers in the region’s growing health care and life-sciences sectors.

“It is truly exciting that Virginia Western has been able to provide a quality education to its outstanding students,” said W. Heywood Fralin, a member of the Educational Foundation’s Board of Directors and Chairman of Medical Facilities of America.  “It is because of this quality that the Fralin Charitable Trust committed to fund these finish-line scholarships, which that will provide residents of this region the opportunity to further their education and position themselves to lead the next generation to great success.”

The Educational Foundation’s flagship effort is the Community College Access Program (CCAP), which draws on public and private support to fund up to three years of college for recent high school graduates. Founded in 2008, CCAP has provided tuition support for nearly 2,500 Roanoke region students.

CCAP historically focused on the “A” – for access – in spreading the message that college is possible for everyone in the Roanoke region. The Fralin Futures STEM-H program complements CCAP by focusing on a student completing his or her educational journey. Unlike CCAP, which serves recent high school graduates, Fralin STEM-H scholarships are open to students of all ages.

“We believe this scholarship will make a real difference for students who have done well at Virginia Western but might be forced to delay graduating because, quite simply, life gets in the way,” said Amanda Mansfield, the Educational Foundation’s Philanthropy Director. “Our older students, in particular, sometimes must juggle taking care of their family and going to school. One financial bump in the road can seriously derail an otherwise excellent student.”

The recipient may use the living-expense stipend – which is equal to the tuition award each semester – however he or she wishes.  “Medical bills, day care expenses, an emergency car repair – these are all things that can throw students off track,” Mansfield said.

Recipients also may apply the stipend to their future tuition, giving them a financial head start if they plan to transfer to a four-year school.

Fralin Futures Scholars will benefit from organized cohort activities that expose them to mentors and employers in the region’s STEM-H fields. The College has established a partnership with the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC that will provide these students a close-up view of the facility’s growth and potential career pathways. 

“Virginia Western has been so fortunate to benefit from the vision and commitment of the Fralin family,” said Dr. Robert H. Sandel, Virginia Western’s President. “They understand that a key to building a stronger economy is educating our workforce. And they wanted to make a lasting impact that will touch everyone in the region.”

To apply and learn more, go to virginiawestern.edu/FralinScholarships. Or contact Carolyn Payne, Scholarship Coordinator at the Virginia Western Community College Educational Foundation, at cpayne@virginiawestern.edu or (540) 857-6371. The deadline to apply is May 1, 2019.

Fast Facts about STEM-H at Virginia Western

  • 47 percent of program-placed Virginia Western students are enrolled in either “STEM” (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) or “H” (health professions) programs of study.

The top STEM-H programs, by enrollment:

  • Science (Associate of Science)
  • Nursing (Associate of Applied Science)
  • Engineering (Associate of Science)
  • Mechatronics (Associate of Applied Science)
  • Information Systems Technology: Network and Security Analyst (Associate of Applied Science)
  • Dental Hygiene (Associate of Applied Science)
  • 61 percent of all program-placed students at Virginia Western receive some type of financial aid.
  • 47 percent of all program-placed students are age 22 or older.

Source: Virginia Western Community College Office of Institutional Effectiveness, based on 2017-18 enrollment