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NoVa Community College is using a $1.1M Go Virginia grant to build the tech talent pipeline

The funding will be used to support the college's information and engineering technology programs, with plans to boost local outreach, credential teachers for additional staff and support existing students.

Data centers are lighting up Virginia's economic future. (Photo used via Creative Commons)
This article was updated at 10:10 a.m., 7/21/21.

With a $1.1 million grant courtesy of economic development initiative Go Virginia, Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) has big plans to embrace the data centers in its backyard — and the career opportunities they offer.

With the grant, NOVA will be implementing a Dual Enrollment Expansion Program for Information and Engineering Technology (DEEP-IET) to help build the Northern Virginia workforce. The $1.1 million, which is part of the $11.1 million in overall grants Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northam announced last month, will be invested back into the school’s “information and engineering technologies (IET) programs.

The pilot DEEP-IET will be a block-scheduling program that places students in cohorts melding coursework and internship experience. It will also include an outreach program for veterans, plus a bridge program that offers courses for college credit for up to 48 high school students from underrepresented groups annually. By the summer of 2024, the pilot program is expected to add 288 graduates and 96 internships. The second part of the funding will be used to credential teachers, such as those currently instructing at the secondary level, in order to add 20 members to NOVA’s faculty. Roughly 15 of those will be in IT, and about five will be in engineering technology.

Through the grant, the school hopes to expand critical infrastructure and engineering technology offerings, said Josh Labrie, director of NOVA’s SySTEMic outreach program. NOVA will be collaborating with the Virginia Economic Development Alliance, the Loudoun County Economic Development Authority and school districts in Prince William County and Alexandria City, Labrie told Technical.ly.

It comes against the backdrop of growth for digital adoption, in both work and life. This has a big implication for jobs.

“As our data grows, so does the need for data centers and the technicians that are going to maintain them,” Labrie said. “…It’s just a huge need on both fronts from the data center industry, as well as our manufacturers and critical infrastructure.”

This isn’t the first time in recent years that NOVA has made a move to build out its tech programs. In 2019, it opened the NOVA Cybersecurity Center and last year saw the creation of an engineering tech fabrication lab on its Manassas campus. NOVA also relaunched its engineering technology program a few years ago, Labrie said. But with the school’s close proximity to Northern Virginia’s data center hub, Labrie said the school has fielded many asks to help build out the pipeline for technicians. Plus, school districts are looking to boost IT staff as they increase the number of devices and tech curriculums.

Josh Labrie

Josh Labrie (Courtesy photo)

“Who’s going to help reimage? Who’s going to help secure their networks as they expand? Who’s going to be the frontline support when parents, students, teachers need support with that technology?” Labrie said. “That’s true of every school division in our area, the IT demand just continues to go up and COVID really exacerbated that.”

The curriculum itself won’t be shaped by the grant, Labrie said, although it could see additional development later. He added that this grant may push the conversation forward for the school to work with the state to adjust the curriculum in the next few years, although it would have to be in accordance with NOVA’s existing policies and procedures.

“It’s about just building our region’s capacity to produce that talent and it will force us to work a little more with our school districts and with the state [Department of Education] and [Virginia Community College System] to make sure we can find the coursework that aligns between the two,” Labrie said.

On the whole, however, Labrie said that this grant is all about building the pipeline for IT and engineering technology, including at the secondary level.

“It’s really about making this a forefront thought when you’re making your higher-ed decisions,” Labrie said, adding that the idea is that students can think, “‘Here are some in-demand careers that a one-year or two-year certificate program at the community college will really prepare you for.”

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