Westerly Education receives $750,000 capacity-building STEM grant

Grant monies have been earmarked for staff positions and equipment purchases in the hands-on teaching labs. The three-year grant was awarded last month.

The Westerly Education Center announced today in a press release that it has received a $750,000 Office of Naval Research STEM grant to add capacity and equipment supporting workforce training and education services in Rhode Island and Connecticut. The center, a self-supporting division of the Rhode Island Office of Postsecondary Commissioner, is a major provider of job training for Electric Boat shipyards in North Kingstown, Rhode Island and Groton, Connecticut.

“Westerly Education Center must build capacity to meet the accelerating demand for the skilled workers needed to support industry-level operational endurance and to provide a pipeline of uniformly skilled workers,” said Amy Grzybowski, Westerly Education Center executive director. “With added capacity, we can improve recruitment of diverse U.S. citizens, seek additional sources of funding for capacity building, and outreach to and enroll direct-to-career high school students and adult students looking to upskill or change their careers. We are thankful to the Office of Naval Research for awarding us this grant, which will allow us to serve more citizens looking for careers in STEM fields, especially veterans and employers supporting the defense industry.”

Grant monies have been earmarked for staff positions and equipment purchases in the hands-on teaching labs. The three-year grant was awarded last month.

Propelled by U.S. Navy contracts for Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines and Virginia-class attack submarines, Electric Boat has embarked on a hiring spree, triggering an urgent need for workforce training for hundreds of new employees. Electric Boat’s total workforce in Rhode Island and Connecticut is expected to grow to more than 18,000 by 2030.

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“In its two-year existence, Westerly Education Center has had a meaningful impact on the provision of high-quality workforce development in the region,” said Brenda Dann-Messier, Ed.D., Rhode Island’s commissioner of higher education. “Electric Boat reports that the 885 students trained at Westerly Education Center in the past two years are consistently performing well on the job and enter the workforce extraordinarily prepared. The ONR grant will make it possible for the center to expand course enrollment with more hands-on capability and increase participation of Westerly PTECH students at Westerly Education Center.”

  The center will add to its facility basic precision measurement equipment, appropriate to support the Precision Measurement and Geometric Dimensioning and Tolerance P-TECH class at Westerly High School and more scientific equipment for its new science labs. 

  The P-TECH pre-engineering and advanced manufacturing students are ideal candidates for Electric Boat submarine-building employment. The center’s new Process Technologists of the Future pathway, which increases the talent pool and qualifications of workforce practitioners, will benefit from diversified outreach and laboratory equipment enhancements.

  “The ability to build our capacity hinges on our proficiency to identify, recruit, enroll, graduate, and assist with the employment of candidates unaware of our education system serving Electric Boat and other major employers,” Grzybowski said. “The ability to connect candidates to services will enable us to meet our performance goals of increasing the number of students who are trained for high-demand, high-wage jobs; eliminating equity gaps; and increasing the number of Rhode Islanders with postsecondary degrees and credentials.

 Founded in 2017, the Westerly Education Center is a public-private collaboration designed to bring together higher education, business, industry, and community partners to provide high-quality educational programs to meet projected workforce growth in the region. More information can be found at westerlyedcenter.org.