With each of its 2,500 adult learners, Savannah Technical College (STC) takes an approach to education that is pragmatic without losing a sense of the value of education for education’s sake. The college’s Accelerating Opportunity (AO) program gives students the opportunity to get a GED and a certification in a specific field at the same time.
The motivation for the AO program comes from the surrounding community. AO helps adult students get what they need to earn employment in the most efficient way possible, without cutting corners on academics.
At STC, it is not uncommon for a medical doctor to teach basic math to GED students, while emphasizing how they will use their lessons in the real world in their chosen profession. This approach not only helps students learn what they need for employment, it also encourages them to go further in their educational careers because, through good teaching and support, students can see their own potential.
Davida Williams, a student training to be a nursing assistant, said this applied approach helped her “get math” for the first time in her life. “This is only the beginning for me,” she continued. “One day, I want to be a doctor. I want my family to see their big sister and be proud.”
To serve its students’ needs, STC has been adding programs onto its AO track. STC looked to its surrounding community to see what skills were needed so students could sustain employment. From this community engagement, STC added aviation mechanics and welding because those were skills that local industry required, and these programs are now the most in-demand in the adult education department.
Dwayne Franklin, in his early 50s, came to STC because he saw a flyer at a community center. He is the type of learner the AO program was created for. “I was always mechanical,” Franklin said. But he didn’t think he had the time to get a degree, and he lacked confidence in his ability to learn a new trade. “I’m good with my hands, but I didn’t really think I could work on something like a plane before coming to Savannah Tech.”
The idea of teaching aviation mechanics to GED students is unique but it’s only part of what makes STC unique in the adult education space. Often in adult education, technology is used to build a specific skill or is geared toward office work (word processing, spreadsheet, etc.).
However, Brent Stubbs, Dean of Adult Education, is quick to point out that in his community, “that kind of technology is not as useful” for his students who are seeking employment. “We teach technology that leads to things you can put your hands on.”
STC does teach its students computer skills, and Stubbs is having preliminary talks with local tech leaders to bring more learning opportunities to underserved communities in the area. But for now, with Gulfstream’s factory right across the road from where STC teaches aviation mechanics, their approach makes sense.
In the end, STC provides a model for adult education that addresses two basic needs for their learners. They provide vocational training for learners to gain the industry-specific skills needed by employers in their community. Just as importantly, because Stubbs and his staff know that sometimes jobs go away, they work to provide academic skills that will stay with the student wherever he or she goes.
“The education our students receive not only trains them for a specific high-demand job,” Stubbs said. “It gives them ways of thinking that will translate into long-term career success.”