Loudon County Economic Development Agency was recently awarded a $37,500 grant split between Loudon County and Lenoir City schools to be used for technology and STEM resources.
Loudon County is a part of Tennessee’s ThreeStar program in which communities meet with the public to identify strengths and weaknesses and set goals. The grant is then applied for and used accordingly. One of the opportunities for improvement in Loudon County is workforce development, Jack Qualls, EDA director, said.
“So for us, workforce development is really looking at trying to create a local talent pipeline to get students that are at the high school level that may not be going on to a four-year college … that would enter into a workforce setting as in such of an industry or manufacturing career,” Qualls said. “We’re really trying to fill a talent pipeline that goes straight into some of our industries, and that’s some of what we’re trying to do with this grant. This grant is going after some laptops, trying to do some programming for some STEM-type activities. The students can really get some training on the front end so once they graduate, or perhaps even before they graduate, we can integrate that talent pipeline directly into our manufacturing.”
The grant was split “down the middle” between the two districts in the form of reimbursements for laptops, desktop computers and other STEM technology, Qualls said.
“We’re very grateful that the ThreeStar grant was able to help out to strengthen our STEM department throughout the county,” Matthew Tinker, Loudon County high school supervisor and career and technical education director, said. “We created a new STEM classroom at Loudon High School this year, and with the ThreeStar grant, we were able to get a lot of technology and computers, 3D printing, robotics systems that we’re going to put into that classroom.”
Some of the technology is already is use, while other pieces were delayed because of COVID-19 complications. Tinker said it is all expected to arrive within the next few weeks.
“We want to introduce our kids to the engineering field in different ways, as many ways as we can, expose them to what other job opportunities are out there,” Tinker said. “At Loudon High School and Greenback (School) we have a very strong CTE program with many job opportunities that the kids can get into right out of high school if they don’t want to go to college. We were a little bit in need of strengthening in the STEM department. We’ve taken a focus on that this year, and the ThreeStar grant was definitely a big help in getting us moving in that direction.”
Mark Weeks, Lenoir City High School assistant principal and CTE director, said Qualls approached the school last year about needed resources.
“We came up with some technology needs that we had in three of our programs,” Weeks said. “So he purchased through the grant some computers for our digital arts program. He purchased some Macintosh computers, and then for our engineering program, they purchased some desktop computers that they do programming and design with. Then we also purchased some laptop computers and a couple of desktops for our mechatronics program once again for design and also to run some of the machinery and stuff that we have in there, the different robots and other electronic devices that require a computer to run.”
Qualls said he has two more community development goals after the workforce piece is completed.
“The second (goal) was really looking at doing a housing study and doing a housing task force to try to see how our growth was taking place in the community,” he said. “The third one was really trying to look at maybe greenways, blueways, and I think maybe looking at how we can better promote some of our natural resources that we have. So No. 1 priority is really finishing up this workforce component and going on down the line with those other two goals, and once that’s complete and then starting this whole process over.”