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Endowment awards $5 million to local education programs

By Andrea Zeek
Staff Reporter



Hundreds of high-paying, high-tech jobs are available, and a $5 million investment will help train local people to fill them.

The Lilly Endowment has awarded $5 million in grants that will help to prepare southeast Indiana’s workforce for careers in science, technology and math-related fields.

The grants will go toward the Economic Opportunities through Education by 2015 initiative, a regional effort that aims to prepare people for jobs in advanced manufacturing and related fields in the region. The grants will bring Lilly Endowment’s total investment in EcO15 to $43 million since the program began in 2007.

The money will be administered on behalf of the endowment through two Bartholomew County organizations, the Community Education Coalition and Heritage Fund: The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County.

The Education Coalition will receive $2.1 million to support initiatives such as the Project-Based Learning Academy, which trains educators to teach using real-world, community-based projects, and “Dream It. Do It.,” a campaign that promotes awareness among area high school students of the variety of advanced manufacturing jobs available.

Heritage Fund will get $2.9 million to organize and to promote a series of classes, programs, internships and other opportunities that will guide students from high school, through college and into high-paying jobs in engineering, design, technology and logistics.

John Burnett, CEO of the Education Coalition, said that effort would kick off this fall with a pilot program at Columbus Signature Academy New Tech High School, chosen because its students already are required to obtain internships — a critical part of helping employers to engage students in industry at a young age.

Stephanie Weber, community outreach coordinator for EcO15 and the Education Coalition, said this is an opportunity for students to develop the skills they need in high school; earn an affordable, technical degree in college; and be recruited into a high-paying job that already exists. And they can do it all in their local communities, Weber said.

Lilly Endowment’s investment also is good news for regional employers, especially smaller ones that can’t always travel around the world to find employees, said Tracy Souza, president and CEO of Heritage Fund.

Souza said an employer in Columbus now can go “down the road” to IUPUC, Purdue College of Technology at Columbus/Greensburg and Ivy Tech Community College-Columbus/Franklin to recruit an engineer.

“That wasn’t possible a year ago,” Souza said.

Burnett said that in southeast Indiana there are more than 700 advanced manufacturing companies that employ about 30 percent of the region’s workforce — roughly 45,000 people. He said it is estimated that those companies will need to hire 500 to 700 skilled workers every year over the next decade.

The economic need is clear, Burnett said, and educators, businesses and community organizations must work to prepare its people to seize the opportunity.

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