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Virginia Western Community College

Congratulations to NC3’s March 2023 School on the Rise, Virginia Western Community College (VWCC)! Since becoming an NC3 certification center in 2020, VWCC has issued over 500 Snap-on and Festo certifications! VWCC continues to deliver high quality career and technical education to students in Roanoke, Virginia and the surrounding communities. 

VWCC Mechatronics Program
VWCC Mechatronics Program

Milan Hayward is the Vice President of Career and Corporate Training at VWCC. After working in the automotive industry for over a decade, he pursued a position in education at his alma mater. He described why VWCC chose NC3 to help accomplish their goal of providing top rate CTE programs to their students,

“The Virginia Community College System’s FastForward workforce development courses are based on in-demand skills and credentials. We needed a new industry-based curriculum and credentials to replace our former industrial maintenance courses.” 

In Virginia, workforce development focuses on obtaining technical skills and credentials. The successful implementation of comprehensive career pathways calls for a flexible and inclusive approach to lifelong learning. NC3 helps accomplish this by providing a wide variety of credentials in different industries, as well as the identical equipment used in the field. 

Bryan Walke, VWCC’s Course Coordinator, was intrigued by NC3’s emphasis on developing partnerships between educators and industries. As a result, NC3’s curriculum is accurate and designed to help the learner succeed in the workforce. When speaking of his motivation to offer industry certifications to students, Mr. Walke said,

“Our motto is ‘transforming lives, strengthening communities’. We help each individual attain quality credentials which lead them to improve their ability to provide for themselves and their families. This creates a stronger community that grows together. Helping our students makes the places that we live in better and stronger.”

The perception of CTE continues to evolve throughout the professional and educational world. Carry Speck, the Administrative Office for Training Solutions at VWCC, mentioned the shift taking place in the minds of high school administration, students, and the community.

“It may be a slow shift, but collectively CTE centers and colleges are working to change the negative perception. The new idea is that for adults and other non-traditional learners who seek a career change, CTE programs are an affordable way to do so.”

Engaging students who may be hesitant to CTE can be a challenge. Dr. David Berry, Program Head of Mechatronics at VWCC, believes this is partly due to the perception of CTE in past generations. Dr. Berry knows first hand the benefits of beginning at a community college rather than a four-year institution. He explained how he helps motivates his students to participate in CTE,

“Technical jobs are plentiful and can be lucrative, as well as providing a career path without the debt of a more expensive school. I started at a community college with teachers who made me feel I was capable of more. I used my associate degree to eventually get a PhD. I discuss my path with students to reinforce CTE as a viable alternative for high schoolers and those seeking a career change.”

NC3’s Train-the-Trainer events help prepare educators to issue industry-curated certifications to students. Mr. Hayward encourages instructors to take part in NC3’s training events to understand what the courses look like, and ensure trainers have the basic knowledge necessary. Dr. Berry appreciates the flexible and cost-effective options NC3 has to offer,

“The Train-the-Trainer process has saved us both money and time. I don’t think we could function without the opportunities.”

The surrounding community has been enthusiastic about partnering with VWCC’s CTE programs. Local businesses have reached out to VWCC instructors to inquire about students who could meet their employment needs. Dr. Berry discussed how local industries have partnered with VWCC for workforce development as well,

“Our current economy has resulted in many more job openings than we have competent technicians. To this end, my inbox is always full of people that are competing for the few graduates I have. As a result, some businesses have begun sponsoring current employees to take classes as a part of their work schedule.  This is a competitive arrangement and allows employees to move up in responsibility as they progress through the coursework. This method seems to be paying dividends to the company and the employee, both”

VWCC’s instructors are eager to share success stories of their students. Paul Gillespie, Machining Instructor, recalled a story from a student that had a lasting impact on his experience as an educator,

“One student was working at a grocery store for seven years. He took a series of classes for several months, and got a job in a CTE field. His salary doubled and he hasn’t looked back”.

Dr. Berry is proud of the flexibility offered to new and undecided students. For example, VWCC offers a two-year Mechatronics A.A.S. degree, but also offers a more popular A.S. in Engineering. With the A.S. in engineering, students can transfer to nearby Virginia Tech to complete a bachelor’s degree. Students can also request a new pathway if they decide their current area of study is no longer suited for them. This allows students to focus on multiple areas, such as mechatronics, electrical engineering, and more. Dr. Berry described the benefits of VWCC’s flexible learning opportunities 

“This flexibility means students aren’t committing to years of content, but merely sampling what they want before making decisions.”

So, what’s next for VWCC? Dr. Berry looks forward to offering a wider range of NC3 certifications to students. He believes in the value certifications add to students’ resumes, and seeks to boost the likelihood of employment upon graduation. Mr. Gillespie hopes to encourage more students to pursue CTE due to workforce needs and job security. Mr. Walke plans to continue adapting to the needs of local industries. His goal is for VWCC to be the premier center to gain industry-backed, respected credentials to help transform the lives of individuals, and strengthen communities. 

Congratulations to Virginia Western Community College! Thank you for choosing NC3 to help accomplish your goals of providing students in your community with excellent CTE programs.


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Stay tuned for our next School on the Rise recipient in April 2023!

Questions about NC3’s School on the Rise? Please contact Erika Staackmann, Customer Success Coordinator, 847.533.6985, 

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