Dennis McCarthy has gotten one SWIFT response and is hoping for another by week’s end.
McCarthy is director of Western Area Career and Technology Center, which confirmed Tuesday it received a $165,000 grant from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation to initiate associate degree programs in welding technology, machine tool technology and mechatronics automation technology.
The postsecondary programs would comprise the school’s Southwestern Institute for Technology, or SWIFT. These degrees would be especially appropriate for students in this region seeking positions in the heart of Marcellus Shale.
But not so fast, SWIFT. The Pennsylvania Department of Education hasn’t officially approved the institute. That, however, may occur Thursday or Friday, and if it does, Western Area would be in a league of its own in this corner of the commonwealth.
WACTC, McCarthy explained, applied for private license accreditation in these programs, the state recommended three changes, and the school made them. The Department of Education, he said, is meeting this week and likely will make a decision about the Chartiers Township school.
“I’m optimistic,” McCarthy said. “The changes were minute. I think we had three minor deficiencies and all three were doable. We did correct two before we left the lobby in Harrisburg.”
He said the cutoff for submission is Thursday and the school afterward would be notified whether it is accepted.
If so, Western Area would be the only career and technology high school in Western Pennsylvania to offer associate degrees. (Some community colleges do too.) Only two other high schools statewide have associate programs: Lancaster Career and Technology Center and Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science & Technology.
Terrence Smith, who left Communcity College of Allegheny County for WACTC in January, is SWIFT’s director. He said SWIFT plans to start recruiting in September with classes to begin in January.
This is not the first grant the Benedum Foundation has given Western Area for SWIFT. A year ago, it provided $280,000 for initial planning.
Benedum, based in Pittsburgh, has authorized $410 million in grants aimed at human development. It services Southwestern Pennsylvania and all of West Virginia.
“But our special interests in Western Pennsylvania are in Washington, Greene and Fayette counties,” said Jim Denova, vice president of the Benedum Foundation. “This is why this project is important to us.”
He said those who graduate from high school at Western Area “can go directly into SWIFT training,” but that adults in the community also will be recruited.
“Once the program is rolling,” Denova said, “you’ll see unemployed adults, adults who are working but wanting to upgrade their skills.
“Seventy percent of all new jobs will require an associate degree, and Western Area is in the right place for these new jobs because of the natural gas play.”
Smith called the Benedum Foundation’s support for Western Area “gratifying and great for all students who want to get into energy, gas, oil and other fields.”
For guidance, he can draw upon talks with officials from the Lancaster and Central Pennsylvania centers and, of course, from his community college experiences. Smith is eager to get going.
“I feel like this is the right time and it’s needed here,” he said of SWIFT. “There are a lot of manufacturers (in the area) who are looking for skilled workers, but there are not enough of them. Some manufacturers are bringing people from out of state.
“We want to fill that gap.”