A UAFS program that educates Fort Smith high school students in robot automation and cyber systems is moving, and next year the courses will be taught on-site at ABB and ArcBest.
The University of Arkansas - Fort Smith hosts two Regional Workforce Grants through the Arkansas Department of Higher Education that allow students to receive concurrent credit in cyber systems and robot automation.
The three-year programs now taught at Northside and Southside High schools allow students to graduate from high school with a big jump on degree and certificate programs. Northside students in cyber systems are on a path to a bachelor’s degree in information technology. Southside students in the robot automation program can move through a certificate of proficiency in industrial electronics maintenance to a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering technology.
Next year students from both high schools will be able to enroll in either program, with the cyber systems courses being taught at ArcBest and the robot automation taught at ABB (formerly Baldor Electric Company).
“UAFS is excited to enter this new phase of a partnerships with the Fort Smith Public School district as well as ABB and ArcBest,” said Amanda Seidenzahl, director of regional workforce grants. “Students will benefit from the on-site locations as the connection between classroom instruction and real-world application grows stronger throughout the semester. The students will stay connected to industry mentors during the program and engage in tours while on location.”
Dr. Ginni McDonald, director of secondary education with Fort Smith Public Schools, echoed Seidenzahl.
“I hope this program will increase the opportunity and frequency of mentoring interactions,” McDonald said. “This will enable those relationships to start sooner and continue longer.”
She said the program fits into the district’s ongoing efforts to make learning relevant to the students. She also praised the two companies.
“ABB and ArcBest have been incredible partners for us to work with,” McDonald said. “It was encouraging to me to see everyone working together for the good of our students.”
Luke Stouffer, a Northside 10th-grader, said he signed up for the cyber systems class because he thought he wanted to do something with computers. Now that he’s in the class, his ideas are solidifying.
“Now I think I really like the programming route, maybe something to do with artificial intelligence or cyber security,” he said.
Exposing students to the variety of technology-related careers is an important part of the program, said Rich Krutsch, vice president of people services at ArcBest. In addition to hosting Fort Smith students on its campus next year, ArcBest is involved in the grant program in several other school districts.
“The students don’t always have a clear understanding regarding what career opportunities are available in technology,” he said. “We have a shortage of technology workers in the state, and this program gives us a chance to show these students the possible routes they can take toward fulfilling work in this field. We try to expose them to as many different career paths as possible.”
Having the students at ArcBest will increase these opportunities.
“There are more than 300 IT professionals on the campus where they’ll be studying. They will see more people, see them more frequently, and see a greater diversity of specialists,” Krutsch said.
Jason Green, vice president of human resources at ABB, emphasized the real-world benefits learning on-site would have for students.
“The students will have the opportunity to learn robotics automation in a real world, high tech manufacturing environment and be exposed to equipment, technology and processes they wouldn’t normally see in a traditional classroom,” he said. “However, whether they learn the skill on a school campus or on our campus, the main thing is they are developing a skill set, doing it safely and working to develop a career plan that will prepare them for life beyond high school.”
Like Krutsch, Green noted that students would be “exposed to a much larger pool of mentors who can help them learn, answer their questions and prepare them for a career.”
Dr. Maria Markham, director of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, explained that the UAFS workforce grants are unique in the state.
“This is an innovative approach for students to learn how the skills previously learned in the classroom translate to the workplace,” she said. “Students from both Fort Smith high schools can now participate in either program while also networking with potential employers and learning specifically about workplace culture. UAFS has created a unique opportunity to strengthen the partnerships with industry as well as high schools, all to the benefit of the students.”
Dr. Ken Warden, dean of the College of Applied Science and Technology, praised the partners in this effort for working together.
“We are grateful to the school district, ABB, ArcBest, and the Department of Higher Education for creating this opportunity for Fort Smith students,” he said. “We think the real-world application of what they learn on-site will make an impression.
“If students move through three years of concurrent credit and then come to UAFS, they will already be near completion of a certificate program or shave almost a year off their college experience,” Warden said. “It’s a win for the students, the companies, and the greater Fort Smith region for UAFS to meet some of the demand for technology specialists.”