AT&T gives $30,000 to new joint mechatronics program

AT&T presented a check for $30,000 to the Botetourt County Public Schools Education Foundation (BCEF) last week at BTEC. On hand for the presentation were (from left) School Board member John Alderson, VWCC President Bobby Sandel, BCEF representative Jay Gilliland, Del. Terry Austin, BTEC Principal Mike Ketron, BCEF President Bob Patterson, AT&T representative Vince Apruzzese, School Board Chair Ruth Wallace, School Superintendent John Busher, School Board member Michael Beahm and Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Dr. Janet Womack.
Photo by Ed McCoy

The Botetourt County Public Schools Education Foundation (BCEF) received a $30,000 grant from AT&T last week, funds that will be used to help with the new mechatronics program at Botetourt Technical Education Center (BTEC) and Virginia Western Community College (VWCC).

The AT&T grant follows a $310,000 state budget amendment that provides funding for the pilot, first-year mechatronics technician course that’s a partnership between VWCC and BTEC. Those funds are designated for faculty accreditation and equipment.

BTEC will be sending the school’s two engineering instructors— Chris Balthis and Kurtis Kennedy— to Germany next summer for accreditation.

AT&T Regional Vice-President of External and Legislative Affairs Vince Apruzzese presented the BCEF with the $30,000 check from AT&T’s foundation during a gathering at BTEC last Wednesday afternoon.

BCEF representatives, School Board members, school division staff, VWCC representatives and Del. Terry Austin were on hand for the presentation that was held in the new BTEC mechatronics lab.

Austin was instrumental in getting the state budget amendment for the mechatronics program.

School Superintendent John Busher said the school division has a unique situation at BTEC because the school is able to meld its cooperative engineering program with hands-on training between the school’s welding and building trades programs.

In fact, the room where the announcement was made quietly hummed with the sound of a 3-D printer that was transforming a block of plastic into a component that will be used with a student-made robot. A large table made by building trades students will be used to train the robot for a robotics competition.

“Botetourt County is experiencing growth in the high-performance manufacturing industry sector. Automated systems are found in almost every industry today,” Busher said in a prepared statement. “In collaboration with VWCC, Botetourt County Public Schools has implemented a MecLab Training System which will provide hands-on problem based learning in mechatronics engineering. The AT&T contribution, to further enhance the mechatronics lab, is greatly appreciated as well as the continued financial support to the school system by the Botetourt Education Foundation.

“We’re proud to be able to give back to the community,” Apruzzese said. He said the cooperative effort between BTEC and VWCC stood out when his company learned about it from a newspaper article. “At AT&T, we work in communities across the Commonwealth, supporting programs that will make a difference in the lives of Virginians. This contribution will give Botetourt County students access to equipment and training they will need for careers.”

Busher acknowledged the importance of the collaboration between the various entities involved in the new lab. “It truly is a community effort,” he said, adding, “This is just the beginning, we’re not done.”

“Here in Botetourt County, we work hard to ensure that our young people have the tools and skills they need to succeed,” Austin said. “Thanks to AT&T’s generous contribution to the foundation, students will have the opportunity to utilize the latest technology to cut, build and create. Today exemplifies the positive effects that a public partnership with private industry can have on our children and community.”

VWCC President Dr. Bobby Sandel said the AT&T grant will make a big difference because those kinds of funds can be leveraged for more money.

He called the mechatronics program “step one” and noted an electrical instrumentation program is the next possibility.

Austin also sees the mechatronics program as another link between public schools and community colleges as the state tries to improve workforce training. “We’re not where we need to be in workforce development, but this will help put us there,” he said.

The county’s education foundation is a 501©3 non-profit and tax-exempt foundation that was established in 1994 by business leaders and others interested in supporting quality education in the county.

It’s been involved in a number of initiatives, including several at BTEC where it was instrumental in raising the money for the advanced welding lab that opened last year and the building and trades program where it has supported student projects in those trades.

AT&T Aspire is AT&T’s “signature philanthropic initiative” that has a goal to drive innovation in education to promote student success in school and beyond. It has committed $400 million to support educational programs since 2008, according to the company.


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