Amid COVID-19 Changes, Georgia VECTR Center Keeps Military Students On-Track

Staff Report From Middle Georgia CEO

Monday, May 11th, 2020

At the end of what has been an unprecedented semester for students nationwide, those in the military, completing technical education programs at the Georgia Veterans Education Career Transition Resource (VECTR) Center, have persevered through a unique set of challenges.

When Central Georgia Technical College (CGTC) transitioned courses online in March, VECTR Center students adjusted and began completing assignments digitally. That was until they received word from their respective branches that they must return to their active duty stations, essentially cutting short their opportunity to transition smoothly into civilian life and a new career.

The military students enrolled in Welding and HVAC courses were closing in on departure from active-duty. Their training at VECTR was a transitional step to secure employable skills in a high-demand civilian career.

“At one point, the regional career skills program manager required all active duty, 16 of the 19 students, to return to their home stations,” said Ret. Col. Patricia Ross, chief operating officer of the VECTR Center. “After continual dialogue on our safety practices and ensuring the safety of the active military members first, some of whom needed to travel out of state or out of country to return to their duty station, the students were approved to stay at VECTR to finish their program.”

Next, came the challenge of navigating Welding and HVAC courses online.

Behind the scenes, CGTC leadership and the VECTR Center secured a limited lab waiver approval from the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) to allow veteran students access to lab resources to continue their training and return promptly to duty stations as requested.

“Using competency-based learning, instructors were able to ensure their students could demonstrate all competencies in the labs and our students ended up graduating early,” Ross said.

In the Center, strict social distancing guidelines were implemented. Staff ensured a single access point and screened students, faculty and staff for illness and provided hand sanitizer. The lab schedule staggered students to five in the morning and five in the afternoon for both classes, so that it did not exceed 10 individuals in each lab. Students consistently washed their hands and maintained social distance of 6 feet between workstations, while wearing appropriate personnel protective equipment.

Caleb Wilson, an Air Conditioning Technology instructor, said changes to the lab were new, different and of course, safe, but he’s grateful he was able to open the labs.

“The students and myself are extremely grateful for having the opportunity to be able to finish the course,” Wilson said. “They were happy to get the training, and I knew the hands-on experience was the key to their success, and I was glad to see them be able to complete it.”

According to Ross, the students have been appreciative of the Center and CGTC’s effort and commitment to allow them to continue in program.

“On the topic of the COVID-19 shut down, I cannot stress [enough] my appreciation for Col. Patricia Ross, Mr. Barry Curtis, my welding instructor, CGTC, and everyone else involved with our continued education,” said Chris Meadows, a welding student. “They jumped over the moon and back to ensure our class could continue our training, in preparation from our departure from military service. They did not have to do that and could have enjoyed their extended spring break like everyone else.”

Meadows echoed a sentiment many students had, that the center delivered on its promise to provide marketable skills for their transition to the civilian workforce.

The active-duty graduating students hailed from the Army, Marines, and Air Force, and in the coming months will enter the civilian workforce.

They returned to their active-duty stations the middle of April, but before their departure, the VECTR Center had a gift for them. Staff gave students a “Semper Gumby” patch, because they were “always flexible” to the back and forth changes for their courses, lab schedule, and living situation.