With $4 million in funding from the National Science Foundation, a new project called A2 proposes to build on the success of Clemson University’s Center for Aviation and Automotive Technological Education using Virtual E-Schools (CA2VES).

CA2VES launched in 2012 to create and deliver accessible e-learning material for a nationwide audience to support aviation and automotive technological education. This transformative, scalable, and flexible e-learning delivery model seamlessly integrates classroom and hands-on laboratory experiences for a diverse technician-education audience.

A2 brings together multiple stakeholders. CA2VES is leading the effort and is partnering with Spartanburg Community College, Greenville Technical College, the South Carolina Technical College System, and Florida’s Indian River State College, along with several industry partners, including BMW Manufacturing Co., Michelin North America, Lockheed Martin, and Upstate SC Alliance.

The current COVID-19 pandemic and its resulting impact on education have increased awareness of the need to address the challenges of learning online not only in the current situation but also for potentially disruptive situations in the future.

To address this environment,  A2 will allow CA2VES and its partners to expand on their unparalleled success in the design and development of high-quality, cost-effective e-learning tools for automotive and aviation manufacturing workforce education, two of the United States’ largest tech industries.

By building on CA2VES, A2 will continue to bring together industry and educational partners to develop, disseminate, and curate e-learning tools to improve education and training and provide nationwide access to A2 manufacturing industries.

The courses created as part of CA2VES are distributed on EducateWorkforce.com.

Many of the modules on EducateWorkforce.com are offered in virtual reality.

Many of the modules on EducateWorkforce.com are offered in virtual reality.

The courses, which include several virtual reality simulations, help teach everything from professionalism and teamwork to laser beam machining and computer-aided maintenance. EducateWorkforce.com has reached 50,000 users in 49 states and the District of Columbia since launching in 2012.

Collaboration with existing and future A2-focused Advanced Technological Education centers and projects and the curation of their e-learning materials, along with CA2VES materials, will allow for the optimization of individual efforts. These activities will deliver maximum effect and capacity-building for all stakeholders.

While still addressing the challenging nexus of education and underrepresentation, this modified collective impact approach extends the use of e-learning to support engaged stakeholders who can then educate a diverse and proficiently skilled A2 workforce.

Through being informed by industry, governmental agencies, and academia, A2 will not only address the educational needs of today but will also focus on the manufacturing educational requirements of tomorrow and the technologies necessary to address the future of manufacturing.

“A workforce that is well prepared in the STEM fields is vital to American prosperity, global competitiveness and national security,” Clemson University President Jim Clements said. “A2 shows how Clemson University is collaborating with technical and community colleges to help build the next-generation of a highly skilled technical workforce.”

Knudt Flor, President and CEO of BMW Manufacturing Co., said the company is pleased to collaborate on A2.

EducateWorkforce.com's home page serves as the gateway to several educational modules.

EducateWorkforce.com’s home page serves as the gateway to several educational modules.

“A2 will allow the team to curate, design, develop and deploy a relevant and technologically smart online curriculum for the automotive workforce,” Flor said. “Our collective efforts will have an immediate impact on automotive workforce preparedness.” 

Angie Leidinger, Clemson’s vice president for external affairs, said that A2 will provide a major boost to economic development in South Carolina and beyond.

“Industries continue to evolve, especially as they advance into Industry 5.0, and they need a qualified workforce with technical skills,” she said. “A2 will play a critical role in creating the talent with these skills, helping support advanced manufacturers in South Carolina and across the country.”

Tim Hardee, president of the South Carolina Technical College System, said that he was in full support of A2.

“These are the kinds of partnerships spanning across top-tier, four-year higher education institutions, technical colleges, the K-12 system and industry stakeholders that will bring about meaningful change,” he said.

Rebecca Hartley, the director of operations for  the Clemson University Center for Workforce Development, said that as part of A2 she plans to reach out to educators and curriculum designers she and her team have met through two separate grants, both provided by the Department of Defense’s Office of Naval Research.

“I anticipate this being a very broad audience,” Hartley said. “The webinars and workshops we offer are going to include high school and two-year and four-year instructors to help them understand how to develop curriculum and what curriculum we have that they can use in their classrooms.”

The new funding will also allow the  CA2VES team to expand research into the effectiveness of using virtual- and augmented-reality to support advanced-manufacturing education.

Students can learn several advanced manufacturing skills on EducateWorkforce.com.

Students can learn several advanced manufacturing skills on EducateWorkforce.com.

“What we find will help will provide practical guidelines and resources for school administrators and system designers to develop and deploy e-learning curricula, including virtual labs, for diverse audiences,” said Kapil Chalil Madathil, who is the Wilfred P. and Helen S. Tiencken Endowed Assistant Professor of Civil and Industrial Engineering and the director of technology for the Clemson University Center for Workforce Development.

Chalil Madathil leads development of virtual reality simulations for EducateWorkforce.com, working with Jeff Bertrand, director of visualizations for the Clemson University Center for Workforce Development.

The Clemson University Center for Workforce Development is a closely aligned sister program to CA2VES.

Presidents of collaborating educational institutions expressed enthusiasm for A2:

  • Michael Mikota, Spartanburg Community College’s president and an alumnus of Clemson University, said: “Developing, disseminating, and assessing widespread use of digital learning tools will strengthen the STEM talent pipeline, promote A2 to diverse populations, and ultimately provide unique opportunities that previously did not exist.  We look forward to continuing this vital work with CA2
  • Keith Miller, president of Greenville Technical College, said: “A2 will allow a multi-state team to develop a permanent and sustainable e-learning curriculum that will help close the skills gap and increase the diversity and pipeline of skilled workers for the aviation industry. This project will greatly benefit Greenville Technical College’s Aircraft Maintenance Technology program, and we look forward to continuing our successful and long-standing partnership with CA2
  • Timothy Moore, president of Indian River State College, said: “Indian River State College is pleased to partner with Clemson University and CA2VES to develop virtual reality educational tools and training to support automotive and aviation technical education. Through this collaboration, IRSC will develop, pilot, and assess the effectiveness of education systems using Augmented Learning. A2 will have a tremendous impact on the workforce training and economic development of our community.”

Also showing enthusiastic support was John Lummus, president and CEO of Upstate SC Alliance.

“This project is well-timed as we adapt to the new normal,” he said. “The collaborative nature of A2 expands the reach of Clemson and its partners, widening and diversifying the STEM talent pipeline for our state and nation. We’re excited to see these institutions deepen their e-learning and virtual reality capabilities in direct support of the automotive, aviation and advanced manufacturing industries, which are also rapidly adapting to the changing business environment.”

As South Carolina’s land-grant university, Clemson University has a long history of successfully collaborating with two- and four-year colleges, state and federal agencies, and other private and public institutional partners across the state and beyond.

Because of these efforts, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and the United States Department of Commerce profiled Clemson University for its pioneering contributions in economic development. The recent National Science Board publication, “The Skilled Technical Workforce: Crafting America’s Science and Engineering Enterprise,” highlighted CA2VES for its collaborative, multifaceted design and impacts.

The recent National Science Board publication, “The Skilled Technical Workforce: Crafting America’s Science and Engineering Enterprise,” highlighted CA2VES for its collaborative, multifaceted design and impacts.

The recent National Science Board publication, “The Skilled Technical Workforce: Crafting America’s Science and Engineering Enterprise,” highlighted CA2VES for its collaborative, multifaceted design and impacts.

The CA2VES partnerships and collaborations developed among technical and community colleges, universities, and industry leaders have created a paradigm shift in STEM research, education, and workforce development.

Clemson University and other A2 Project team members have a long history of listening to stakeholders and refining activities and projects based on the information provided by the community, as evidenced by the Technologies for an Advanced Manufacturing Workforce Seminar held by Clemson University on Feb. 12. This seminar focused on new developments and future needs in the realm of local workforce development and education with speakers from industry, state agencies, and academia

Funding for A2 is provided by a National Science Foundation program called Advanced Technological Education.

EducateWorkforce.com is now divided into five courses broken into 48 modules. Instructors can use full courses, or pluck individual modules to augment their own courses. The platform is used mostly by instructors at technical and community colleges but also some high schools and universities.

Individual students can also access the courses. They are available online at low cost to make them more accessible to adults who want to acquire new skills while balancing work and family obligations.

As part of the new round of funding, educators will work to expand the curriculum available on EducateWorkforce.com.

Spartanburg Community College will be tasked with creating a mechatronics program focused on applications in the automotive industry.  Greenville Technical College will complete a curriculum for aviation maintenance technicians that meets standards set by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Also as part of the grant, Indian River State College will work with industry in Florida to ensure EducateWorkforce.com’s curriculum is applicable beyond South Carolina.

Anand Gramopadhye, dean of Clemson University’s College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences, serves as the principal investigator on the grant.

“Here is an example of the work driven by the Clemson University Center for Workforce Development at CU-ICAR, one that illustrates the transformative impact we can have on the economy,” Gramopadhye said. “It so clearly emphasizes the meaningful change possible when we listen to industry partners and have  exceptional  talent working together with broad institutional support from our leaders at academic institutions and state and federal agencies. Projects such as this one reinforce our ability to respond to these challenging times.”