written by elijah baker
Just north of downtown Huntsville is the education corridor where more than 9,200 students experience each educational milestone, from completing public education at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary, Lee High School, or New Century Technology High School to earning their bachelor or master’s degree from Alabama A&M University. Between these institutions – on a two-mile stretch of Meridian Street – is Drake State Community & Technical College.
It’s here on Meridian Street that institutions like Drake State nurture students and supply the community with resources that make the education corridor a valuable destination.
Solving workforce shortages with community partnerships
Drake State’s CSI (Connecting Students with Industry) Advanced Industrial Maintenance Program unlocks what industry leaders desire most – a skilled workforce. The college is working toward that goal by partnering with various industries to prepare more students for in-demand technical careers.
“Mazda Toyota Manufacturing appreciates the partnership with Drake State because it has opened up new career pathways to us,” said Scott Russo, Skilled Workforce Development Manager at Mazda Toyota. “It truly is connecting students, ones we may never have reached otherwise. The program removes some of the barriers that stop many students from pursuing careers in skilled fields.”
The CSI Program matches students with six partner companies (Boeing, GE Appliances, Lockheed Martin, LSINC, Mazda Toyota Manufacturing, and Toyota Alabama) while they pursue a two-year technical associate degree in Mechatronics.
“It benefits partner companies because students can transition faster after graduation and hit the ground running in the position. Students take these two years in a part-time role, and we teach them what they need to know to be successful, instead of training them in a new role once they graduate,” said Russo. “That alone is more cost-effective for a company.”
This work-based learning approach gives students the chance to learn about a company’s culture, equipment, and processes faster, and by year two, the student would have graduated and transitioned seamlessly into their careers.
“Of course, the goal is that a student would work for the company where they did work-based learning, but they’ve gained experience that increases their opportunities regardless of where they end up,” said Russo.
Training up healthcare heroes
As the City of Huntsville continues to grow, the demand for medical providers rises as well. Students aspiring to enter the medical field can start their career at Huntsville’s Historically Black Community College.
“If you are successful at Drake State, you can achieve any goal in life,” said Max Tunstill, who graduated in 2007 and worked as a Registered Nurse for eight years at Huntsville Hospital.
In 2021, he became Chief Nursing Officer at Athens-Limestone Hospital. Tunstill carried out every professional goal he had ever set within 14 years and said he especially thanked Drake State faculty for helping him become a successful nurse.
“Nursing Instructor Dr. Mattie Davis is the person I admire the most at Drake State,” said Tunstill. “She always found ways to help students learn the material and succeed on the exams. Dr. Davis also shared her experiences from early in her career. She would always tell us that if we can succeed through our Licensed Practical Nursing (LPN) program that everything else from here on out would not be nearly as hard.”
Tunstill knows all too well the demand for more healthcare professionals, especially during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, Drake State and Huntsville Hospital teamed up to create the LPN Launch Program that will train Licensed Practical Nurses.
LPN Launch students will receive financial help from Huntsville Hospital for tuition, fees, books, and other expenses. In exchange for the aid, students will work at the largest hospital in North Alabama upon successful completion of the program.
“If there is a win-win for someone looking for a career, this is it,” said Tracy Doughty, President and Chief Operating Officer of Huntsville Hospital. “Drake State has an outstanding nursing program.”
Whether it is health, advanced manufacturing, or cosmetology, Drake State has ultramodern equipment and skilled instructors to help students build the best path to a rewarding career.
Movin’ on up
“I wanted to be an example for my son. I wanted him to know that it doesn’t matter how long it takes you to finish reaching your degree,” said Computer Information Systems graduate Tirek Nettles. “I first went to school but didn’t finish. I joined the workforce to get experience instead. I was 33 years old when I decided to go back to school.”
There are many students like Nettles who want marketable skills by way of increased education.
Drake State is a college with a plethora of options, including dual enrollment for high school students, GED courses for adult education students, and unique internships with NASA that give current students practical engineering experience.
There’s a new path for people looking to add to their education. Drake State graduates who have associate degrees can continue their education exclusively online at Western Governors University (WGU). Drake State is WGU’s first partner in the State of Alabama. The university’s competency-based learning model is a cost-effective choice for students who need flexibility.
You have options, and these opportunities are accessible along Huntsville’s education corridor.
“It only took me two years to get my associate degree and three certifications in the IT field thanks to Drake State,” said Nettles.
This is where you want to be.
J.F. Drake State Community and Technical College is a public, historically black community and technical college in Huntsville, Alabama. The college was founded as Huntsville State Vocational Technical College in 1961.