West Hills College District gets grant to prepare students for 21st Century careers

From West Hills College
West Hills College District gets grant to prepare students for 21st Century careers

West Hills Community College District is one of a handful of Central Valley colleges to be awarded a grant to blend academic and career technical education in a program designed to prepare California students for college and careers in the 21st Century.

The California Department of Education awarded $244 million in grants this week to 40 programs to connect employers with high schools and colleges and train students for jobs in high demand fields.

The grant to West Hills College, the lead fiscal agency in partnership with Reedley College, will focus on “science and math as it relates to the business of agriculture,” said Carole Goldsmith, president of West Hills College Coalinga. Her college was home last year to a unique Paramount Ag Academy for students from area schools, a summer program that brought pupils to the college campus for classes and demonstrations intended to showcase careers in agriculture. “Many of the students were from small, rural farming communities, such as Avenal, and the students were mostly the children of farm workers,” said Goldsmith. “Their view of farm work was often limited to harvesting crops in the fields. But our Ag Academy taught them about the opportunities in the agriculture business for workers with technical training and knowledge of math, science and computerized equipment, jobs with bright futures and high pay.”

WHCCD will work with industry partners in the new program, including the Roll Global family of Paramount Farming and related entities, along with Olam International, Cal-Organics and Grimmway Farms. West Hills and Reedley will partner on programs to be offered in Avenal and Sanger.

The California Legislature passed the Career Pathways Trust Funds project in 2014 in order to establish regional collaborative relationships with business entities, community organizations and local institutions of postsecondary education.

The goal is “to develop and integrate standards-based academics with a career-relevant sequenced curriculum following industry-themed pathways aligned to high-need, high-growth or emerging regional economic sectors,” according to a DOE press release.

West Hills College was the lead fiscal agency for a consortium of 11 colleges in the Central valley that won a $19.6 million award in 2011 to accomplish similar goals. Funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, the three year initiative led to streamlined career technical training in healthcare and other fields where demand for workers was higher than the supply of qualified applicants. “We successfully achieved our goals under that grant,” Goldsmith said. “Our application for the newest grant was built upon our experience and past performance in moving the needle when it comes to reforming the higher education model.”

The awards are part of a national trend. Recently, tech giant Google, Inc., announced it would invest in a computerized farming network to crunch data on seeds and soil and help farmers grow more crops and save money.

Just last month, West Hill College hosted an Ag Hackathon at its Farm of the Future. Dozens of software developers converged on Coalinga and in two days developed useable mobile applications that will streamline the scheduling of watering and fertilizer application in order to enhance production and conserve resources for area farmers. 

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