Clark College gets $315,000 for aerospace education

By Tom Vogt, Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter

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A $315,501 grant to increase its enrollment in aerospace education also will help Clark College enhance its presence in the Columbia River Gorge.

The funding is part of $8 million distributed to 21 schools by the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.

The funding will give Clark College 40 slots for students in high-demand programs. The college is taking advantage of the money to expand its access, in terms of scheduling as well as distance, said Tim Cook, vice president of instruction.

Clark will add an evening course in machine technology for 20 of the students. The other 20 students will be part of a new program in the Gorge, with Clark launching a computer-aided drafting and design program in Bingen for 20 students.

The funding is part of the state Legislature’s package to guarantee the Boeing 777X jetliner would be built in the state. The $8 million comes from the state’s general fund. It will create positions for more than 1,000 students across Washington. There were about 8,500 community and technical college students in the programs this year.

Securing the grant was a competitive process, with 24 schools submitting 40 proposals.

“We were a little anxious. All the attention goes to schools in the Seattle area. We felt we deserved it, but we were a little anxious,” Cook said.

To get its share of the funding, “We had to show demand and interest from the business community,” Cook said.

“Machine technology was a no-brainer. We are maxed out on machine labs during the day and haven’t had the resources (to hold classes) at night for four or five years. The proposal there was cut and dried,” he said.

“We have been wanting to offer some classes in the Gorge and haven’t had the resources to get out there,” he said.

Clark’s CAD proposal was supported by Gorge-area aerospace firms, including Insitu — a Boeing subsidiary that is a leader in the unmanned aircraft industry.

“We had a meeting more than a month ago to talk about what would make the most sense, and they said they need basic CAD training,” Cook said. “The tech companies out there say they’re not getting employees with basic CAD training. They all wrote letters of support.”

That program also would be a retraining resource for unemployed Gorge residents. And, it would help the Penguin Nation plant its flag in a more visible stretch of the Gorge.

Clark College opened a satellite campus in Carson this year, but programs in the former middle school haven’t generated a lot of traffic yet.

The Bingen facility, in a high-visibility location along state Highway 14, will give Clark College “an opportunity to have a presence,” Cook said.

Eventually, “We can offer basic ed, GED and other classes,” Cook said. “We’re really excited about that.”

The programs will begin in the 2014-2015 school year, so setting up the Bingen operation will stretch Clark’s facilities staff, Cook said.

Both sequences are two-year programs.

Although the funding is billed as an aerospace-education initiative, graduates aren’t obligated to work for any particular employer.

The college programs will support a wide variety of specialties, ranging from welding and machining to avionics and composite materials.

“We committed to continuing investment in the aerospace training programs that matter most to the industry,” Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday.

“I’m pleased to see the wide variety of programs and geographic distribution of the colleges that were funded and that a subcommittee led by aerospace industry executives made the final recommendations for funding,” Inslee said.

Tom Vogt: 360-735-4558; www.twitter.com/col_history; tom.vogt@columbian.com.