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Congressman Rogers Visits Gadsden State’s Ayers Campus

Congressman Mike Rogers is pictured with students, faculty and staff from the FAME program.

Anniston, Ala. — Congressman Mike Rogers spent Friday morning at Gadsden State’s Ayers Campus, where he learned more about the Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education program. The program is an “earn while you learn” apprenticeship-style program that requires the students to attend classes two days a week while getting hands-on experience in a local advanced manufacturing facility three days a week.

Congressman Mike Rogers takes a tour of the labs at the Advanced Manufacturing Center on the Ayers Campus of Gadsden State Community College. FAME senior students Luke Devin, left, and Wes Simmons explains how the mechatronics line works. They are joined by Alan Smith, second from right, dean of Workforce Development.

Nineteen of the students enrolled in the FAME program met with Rogers along with college administrators, industry partners, and FAME faculty and staff. Kelley Pearce, associate dean of Student Services, recalled the process to get the FAME program to the Ayers Campus. It was 2018, and East AlabamaWorks agreed to join Gadsden State in their attempt to get the program started. Soon, Honda Manufacturing of Alabama was interested in becoming a partner. For a year, Pearce and other administrators worked with East AlabamaWorks to get the FAME chapter for Gadsden State approved.

“We had some naysayers who didn’t think we could get it done; didn’t think we could get the students,” she said. “The best way to get me to do something is to tell me I can’t.”

In 2019, the first cohort of FAME enrolled at Gadsden State. They graduated in 2021. The fourth cohort started at the College this Fall. There are 11 industry partners working with the program.

“We have a pattern of getting people involved to help our students, our community and our industrial community,” Pearce said. “There’s a lot of collaboration. FAME is built out of relationships and partnerships. We are thrilled to have such a wonderful program in Calhoun County.”

Students who complete the FAME program earn an Associate in Applied Science in Industrial Automation. They also earn five Lean Manufacturing certifications.”

“We are training top technicians for our workforce,” said Alan Smith, dean of Workforce Development. “We want them to complete their training and stay in East Alabama to work, but, truthfully, their education can take them wherever they want to go.”

During Rogers’s visit, he experienced a safety huddle with the FAME students. During the huddle, students shared their safety commitment and practiced their communication and team-building skills.

“Our industries need trained technicians who can do the job, but they also need technicians who can communicate and collaborate; technicians who have soft skills and the ability to work in a highly-technical environment,” Smith said.

Andy Robertson, a coordinator of Workforce Development, reported to Rogers that the FAME Committee, which is comprised of industry partners and key workforce development staff, exceeded all of its recruitment and diversity goals with 30 students selected for the 2022-23 cohort and an increase in diversity by 35 percent.

Keri Wood, a work-based learning specialist, said prior to committing to FAME, students are taken on tours of manufacturing partners.

“A lot of our students did not know what the manufacturing environment would be like,” she said. “They see that it’s not dirty. It’s not hot. It’s safe. They get to see the environment they’re going to work in first-hand.”

Michael Gaines, division leader for Honda Manufacturing of Alabama, said he is proud of the partnership the automobile manufacturing company has with Gadsden State.

“East Alabama is a manufacturing community, but manufacturing is much different than it used to be,” he said. “It’s advanced. Our products have grown and advanced. We need to expand programs like FAME. In our state, we have dynamic partnerships between government, education, and industry. We are proud of that. We are proud of the FAME program. We just need to grow it.”

Kelvin Wright, plant manager at Bridgewater Interiors and past president of the FAME Committee, was among the first businesses to commit to being a FAME partner. He said he has seen the program benefit the students as well as the companies.

“They can make $60,000 a year after just two years of college,” he said. “And they come out of college debt-free. This is a wonderful program, and we still have a lot of demand for the program. Like everyone has said, we need to grow FAME.”

Smith told Rogers that 10 companies are interested in being a FAME partner, but Gadsden State currently does not have the capacity to train the numbers of students needed to fill the demand. He said Gadsden State needs more classroom and lab space as well as additional instructors.

“We are here to support you in achieving your goals,” Rogers said.

The congressman concluded his visit with a tour of the Advanced Manufacturing Center located on the Ayers Campus.

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