East Mississippi Community College was awarded a grant by the U.S. Department of Labor to support some advanced manufacturing programs at The Communiversity. Here students enrolled in the Industrial Maintenance program take part in a lab assignment.

April 11, 2024

The U.S. Department of Labor has awarded East Mississippi Community College a $1.56 million grant that will bolster efforts at The Communiversity to meet employer demands for skilled workers in industrial and engineering technology sectors while increasing enrollment and retention of female and minority students in advanced manufacturing programs of study.

EMCC is among 16 colleges in 14 states collectively awarded $55 million in the latest round of Strengthening Community Colleges Training Grants through the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration. Grantees will work with industry stakeholders to identify workforce needs in selected industries within the colleges’ labor markets. EMCC was the only college in Mississippi awarded one of the grants.

“These are highly competitive grants and we are excited that EMCC was chosen by the Department of Labor to participate in the effort to meet the nation’s demand for a skilled workforce while providing citizens the opportunity to earn family-sustaining wages in the communities in which they reside,” EMCC President Dr. Scott Alsobrooks said. “Our goal has always been to serve as a conduit between local industries and the residents in our district. These grant funds will further strengthen those efforts.”

EMCC applied for the grant to meet an anticipated uptick in demand for workers with advanced technical skills at the $2.5 billion Aluminum Dynamics plant under construction in Lowndes County. Slated to open in the summer of 2025, plans are to eventually hire up to 750 employees for the mill that that is a joint venture with Steel Dynamics, Inc., a metal manufacturing company with eight locations, including one in Lowndes County.

“We want to make sure we are not only meeting the needs of Aluminum Dynamics but also of our other industry partners as the demand for skilled workers increases with the opening of the new plant,” said EMCC Dean of Institutional Research, Effectiveness, Grants and Sponsored Programs Susan Baird, who spearheaded the college’s grant submission.

Aluminum Dynamics and Steel Dynamics are two of the industry partners in the grant program, as are PACCAR Engine Company and Yokohama Tire Company. The project title is the EMCC Advanced Manufacturing Sector Initiative, or EAMS.

The grant funds will be used to enhance enrollment efforts and provide support to EMCC’s Mechatronics Technology, Industrial Maintenance and Systems Based Automations programs at The Communiversity, where training in advanced manufacturing fields of study takes place.  

EAMS also calls for the purchase of some software and equipment to support the programs. One of the first steps will be to hire an additional navigator at The Communiversity, an employee who provides advising, recruiting and retention services to students while working to remove any obstacles that might prevent them from completing their studies.

EMCC serves a six-county region that includes the counties of Oktibbeha, Clay, Lowndes, Lauderdale, Noxubee and Kemper. Student demographic data reveals an equity gap in the enrollment, retention and eventual graduation and employment of black/African American and female students in the college’s industrial and engineering technology career pathways programs.

“We need to find innovative ways to reach those students who would not normally consider one of these programs as a possible career path,” Baird said. “We need to do a better job targeting those school systems in our district that have not typically brought in as many students to these programs. That means visiting our area high schools more and attending community events. We already do that, but we will be able to expand on those efforts once we hire a new navigator.”

This is the fourth round of Strengthening Community Colleges Training Grants, which has to date provided funds to 170 colleges in multiple sectors, including advanced manufacturing, health care, IT and infrastructure projects such as construction, transportation, broadband expansion and renewable energy. In addition to the $55 million awarded in the latest grant disbursement, a selected number of the grant recipients will participate in an evaluation study and share an additional $10 million in funding. That group of recipients will be announced in the fall.

The goal of the grant program is to provide training that leads to a job, an April 10 Employment and Training Administration press release states.

“The Department of Labor is awarding funding today that will help community colleges equip workers with the skills they need right now, and that will strengthen workforce infrastructure in their respective communities,” Acting U.S. Secretary of Labor Julie Su states in the press release.