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Rethinking education: ATN giving students 'Plan B'

By By ROBERT BLANKENSHIP
Advance Managing Editor
Do today's students have to obtain a four-year degree from a university to enjoy a successful career? According to John Cranston and the Alabama Technology Network the answer is a resounding "no."
At a meeting Friday with businessmen, industrial employers, members of local government and other community leaders, Cranston explained the importance of vitalizing Alabama schools' technical education programs to give students a better opportunity to meet the demands of modern employers.
Cranston, a senior research scientist at the Alabama Technology Network's Center for Automation and Robotics, located at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, and executive director of the Technical Education Association, has been working for the past 10 months at schools across the state to change students' perceptions of technical school.
In South Alabama, where high-tech plants are less common, the ATN is attempting to bring the idea of technical jobs to the forefront.
Earlier this year, students from Escambia County traveled to Tuscaloosa to tour the Mercedes Benz plant, which produces products using robotic technology, as part of this program.
In his travels from school to school, Cranston said he has asked students what they needed to do to have a successful career. He said the vast majority always say they have to go to a four-year college and get a degree.
While students feel their only options are college or a low-pay job, high-tech industries such as those that have moved to Huntsville in recent years are having to look elsewhere for skilled employees. Cranston said many of these employers have begun bringing people in from England, India and other foreign countries that have technical education as part of their educational program.
Cranston's School-2-Career program offers not just education for students, but also for teachers.
Cranston's vision is to see industry, schools and state and local governments working together to better train students for technical jobs, thus, filling a void within the state now for these type employees.
He has had some success, and is continuing to work, to obtain scholarships from industries to send graduating seniors to tech schools. He said he hoped that would help rebuild the reputation of technical schools and jobs.
In Huntsville, where a career academy has been opened, local industry has jumped on the bandwagon by supplying machinery, equipment, money and scholarships.
At the career academy in Madison County, signup for the school has been very successful, according to Cranston. Classes have been filled and they are being forced to turn others away.
There are 10 technology centers across the state and each deals with a specific area of technology.
H.C. Cecil said he and Cranston are now facing their own reality of a lack of funding.
Cranston's School-2-Career has been recognized by several groups. Last year he received the ATN Innovative Program of the Year Award. The program also won an award presented by the Southern Policy Growth Board, and the National Association of Manufacturers also recognized the program.
Cranston said one of the biggest challenges is to change the image of technical classes.