By Jeff Thompson – St. Clair News-Aegis
On Dec. 16, Jefferson State Community College reaffirmed its investment in the area by announcing a $500,000 expansion at the Pell City Campus.
In front of about 50 community stakeholders, College President Keith Brown revealed plans to finalize the third floor of the main building and consolidate medical instruction on campus into the new area. Jefferson State plans to open its new Nursing and Allied Health Wing by the fall of 2016, Brown said.
“In our nursing department right now we have a simulation area where students can get training on mannequins that reproduce any kind of situation you can imagine,” Brown said. “We have that located on one floor, we have our clinical labs on another floor, and we have classrooms in a different area.
The third floor is the only portion of the Pell City campus that remains unfinished. Campus Division Chair Nicholas Kin said though the structural skeleton had been raised for some time, the area was always designated to grow with the school’s needs and has remained empty. This year, nine years after construction began on the main building, the Pell City campus will take the step toward its finalization.
“I would love to see this complete by the fall so that we’re talking about our 10th anniversary in Pell City at the same time we’re holding the grand opening for this wing,” Brown said.
The school selected its nursing and allied health programs for the new space based on a combination of vibrant community partnerships and student demand. More than 20 percent of the Pell City campus’ 650 students are enrolled in health programs, and over the past three years 42 have graduated. Another 42 are slated for graduation by 2017, and the nursing program has maintained a 100 percent employment rate.
Several of those students have been hired right next door, said Shiloh Sweeny, nurse manager at St. Vincent’s St. Clair Hospital.
“This program expands our job field,” Sweeny said. “Right now, studies have found that as the Baby Boomer generation retires, many nursing positions are going unfilled. The number of qualified applicants just isn’t keeping up.”
As a partner with Jeff State in Pell City, St. Vincent’s St. Clair is providing a path to employment for area residents and simultaneously filling areas of need. The path begins with another partnership, however, as students can begin working toward a nursing assistant certification while attending Pell City High School through dual enrollment – one of the campus’ workforce development initiatives.
PCHS students can take electives at no cost that, when complete, provide a certification that would cost more than $1,000 at Jeff State. Students can use that training to begin a job in the field or continue their education.
Brown said workforce development was a strategic priority over the next three years, especially in the areas of nursing and allied health in Pell City. And those who heard it from him firsthand, sitting on the third floor in the canvas of what’s to come, found it to be a very exciting proposition.