Texas conneXion

Mar 20, 2009

A new academic partnership with San Antonio College and Kettering University will help build more technical talent in the San Antonio region.

Bexar County, Texas, sits at the crossroads of trade.  The U.S. national freeway system Xs at San Antonio, logistically connecting the community from the Pacific to the Atlantic and from Mexico to Canada. The Texas railway network is robust, which is also part of why one of every six jobs created in the U.S. last year was created in Texas.  Texas has been the #1 exporting state in the nation for seven consecutive years.

Bexar County (pronounced “bear”) is big.  It’s the size of a small U.S. state and it’s very old (founded by Spain in the 1600s).  Yet, the average age of Texans (33) is younger than the U.S. national average (36 years old).

Bexar County’s manufacturing and business sectors have economic momentum, but the region needs more engineers and expert technical talent – lots of them, in fact, said David Marquez, executive director of Bexar County's Economic Development Department.

Paraphrasing former Texas demographer, Dr. Steve Murdoch, Marquez said, “the Texas of today is the U.S. tomorrow. Bexar County has a strong tax base and Texas and Northern Mexico are growth areas,” he explained.  “We have active manufacturing here and 200 OEM Tier 1 supplies in a nascent automotive manufacturing corridor that includes those Mexican states that border Texas.

"This Texas-Mexico Automotive Super Cluster has final assembly facilities from GM, Toyota, Chrysler, BAE Systems, Freightliner, Peterbilt and more.  Texas added 153,700 jobs in December 2007 to 2008.  And the Texas economy has out performed the national economy since 2005.”

But, Marquez said, San Antonio employers report a need for talent in five critical areas:

  • Mechanical Engineers,
  • Industrial Engineers,
  • Manufacturing Engineers,
  • Management specialists and
  • Electro Mechanical experts.

“It’s stable here, with a bright future,” Marquez added.  “We can offer strength amid the recession, but we need to stop poaching trained workers from each other.  We need a larger educated workforce who will consider Texas home.”

San Antonio’s needs and opportunities have been keeping Kettering’s Bob Nichols busy for months.  Nichols, who is Kettering’s director of external affairs, has been meeting with Marquez, Kyle Burns, president and CEO of the Free Trade Alliance of San Antonio, and others to see how the region’s workforce needs can align with what Kettering has to offer.

Nichols started in Texas with focus group research conducted by Galloway Research Service of San Antonio.  “Pat Galloway completed a market research study among San Antonio’s key business and industry executives and found some very positive conclusions, worthy of further study,” Nichols explained.  Briefly:

  • San Antonio has developed a large manufacturing base and has a notable number of large employers that are global leaders in their respective industries.
  • The concentration of military bases in San Antonio has historically attracted various government contractors, with needs for a technically trained workforce in science, engineering and managerial positions. 
  • The need for R &D in medical and manufacturing sectors has been growing and diversifying at a rapid pace in the region.  The need for highly educated science, technical and engineering personnel far exceeds the community’s ability to supply them locally.

Employers in the research study said that the need for technically educated personnel will continue to grow over the next five to 10 years, and that an annual growth rate of 300 to 400 new jobs was conservative, Nichols reported.  Job growth in “hot sectors,” such as bio-technology and aerospace, will be much more rapid.  “Employers in our research study were unanimous in stating that they would prefer to recruit local personnel in the undergraduate fields they need,” Nichols added.

That’s why on March 16 the presidents of San Antonio College and Kettering, along with the vice chancellor of the Alamo Community Colleges in Texas, signed a fully articulated academic agreement to develop and build a stronger pool of technical talent for the San Antonio region.
San Antonio College President Robert E. Zeigler joined Kettering President Stanley R. Liberty and Alamo Community Colleges Vice Chancellor for Economic & Workforce Development Federico Zaragoza in forming a unique academic partnership.  

The alliance is intended to ensure a smooth transition for San Antonio students, who will begin their college studies and co-op experiences locally and then transfer into the country’s most advanced professional co-operative education program.  Students will spend their first two years at San Antonio College and their final 2 ½ years in Kettering’s unique baccalaureate program.

"This partnership creates a collaborative model for a new concept in engineering education," said Zeigler.  "The joint efforts of community colleges and four-year institutions will produce adaptable 'industry-ready' engineers for the unpredictable 21st century economy."

Liberty said, "An alliance between San Antonio College and Kettering University will provide a unique educational opportunity for local students and an opportunity for San Antonio businesses to establish an early connection with local talent. Kettering is very pleased to join with San Antonio College in this endeavor and looks forward to helping the region address its future technical workforce needs."

At Kettering, students will spend three months in academic classrooms and then return to Texas for three months to work in professional co-op jobs at a variety of San Antonio businesses.  Students are paid during their co-op terms.  At the end of the three months, students will return to Michigan to begin the three-month academic cycle again.

As the largest single-campus community college in Texas with more than 21,000 students, San Antonio College (SAC) is approved and accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Designated a Hispanic-Serving Institution, SAC is also one of the Alamo Community Colleges.  

The 2005 book "Enhancing the Community College Pathway to Engineering Careers" from the National Academy of Engineering and the National Research Council considers San Antonio College an exemplary institution and recognizes the college's engineering program.  In fact, with direction from Coordinator Dan G. Dimitriu, Ph.D., PE, SAC's Engineering program has more than doubled its enrollments in the last eight years from 230 students in fall 1999 to 489 students in fall 2007.  

Dimitriu also coordinates a summer bridge program for high school students interested in Engineering, and partners with industry and other universities to help students continue their education and ultimately embark on Engineering careers.  
Kettering University, founded in 1919, has long been a leader in the preparation of technical and managerial leaders for industry and society and is a national leader in professional co-operative education.  It is the only co-op school in the country that sends its entire student body into professional co-op jobs.  Income from the co-op term is a significant resource to help pay college expenses.  

For more on San Antonio College, visit www.accd.edu/sac/

Written by Patricia Mroczek