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. This is reflected in the values of Dean of Adult Education Brent Stubbs. Stubbs holds an M.B.A., conducted graduate work in philosophy, and is currently an Ed.D. candidate in the higher educational leadership program at Georgia Southern University. He can go from talking about STC’s role in reinvigorating Savannah’s tax base, to the finer points of Heidegger and Kierkegaard, to theories about pedagogy without missing a beat.
One sees the same commitment to practical results and academic rigor in how Stubbs has shepherded the college’s Accelerating Opportunity (AO) program, which 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 those students will use their lessons in the real world in their chosen profession. This approach not only seems to help students learn what they need for employment, it also encourages students 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, says 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.”
In order to keep serving its students’ needs, the school has been adding programs onto its AO track. STC looked to its surrounding community, reaching out to academic researchers, community leaders, and local employers to see what skills were needed so students could sustain employment. From this community engagement, STC decided to add aviation mechanics and welding because those were skills that local industry required. Those two programs are now the most in-demand programs in the adult education department.
A student like Dwayne Franklin, who is in his early 50s and came to STC because he saw a flyer at a community center, is the type of student that the the AO program was created for. “I was always mechanical,” Franklin said. He didn’t think he had the time to get a degree and he lacked confidence in his ability to be able 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 education our students receive not only trains them for a specific high-demand job. It gives them ways of thinking that will translate into long-term career success.”
Dean of Adult Education, Savannah Technical College
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, Stubbs 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,” he said.
STC does teach its students computer skills, and Stubbs is having preliminary talks with some local tech leaders to bring more learning opportunities to under-served communities in the area. But for now, considering Gulfstream has a factory right across the road from where the school teaches its aviation mechanics, their approach makes sense.
In the end, STC is providing a model for adult education that addresses two basic needs for the adult learners they serve. On one hand, they provide vocational training that allows students to quickly gain the industry-specific skills needed by employers in their community. And 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.”