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OTC Receives USDA Rural Development Grant

By MYRA THRIFT
WJH Staff Writer
Several months ago, the folks at Okefenokee Technical College applied for a grant from the USDA Rural Development Office in the amount of $61,842.
Monday afternoon, U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss and Stone Workman, state director of USDA Rural Development, presented a check to OTC president Gail Thaxton in the exact amount applied for, $61,842. Check Presentation

The funds will be used to help purchase CISCO Networking Infrastructure used for student training in computer information systems. “This equipment will allow students to learn on state of the art equipment,” Workman said as he presented the big check. “That will make graduates competitive for jobs. Georgia is seeing an increase in computer information jobs and we need to help fill them with local people.”

“Okefenokee Technical College exists to provide workforce training in southeast Georgia,” said Thaxton.” USDA grants are critically important to OTC, helping the college to purchase a CTD simulator and a tractor-trailer, a greenhouse, a digital processor – used to process x-ray images- for Radiology – and three IV simulators for the nursing program.” This year, OTC realized a need for assistance from the USDA to purchase Cisco equipment for the Computer Information Systems program – routers, switches, wireless components, and cabling for interconnectivity.

“We are all dependent upon IT Networking professionals – and the rapid changes in the industry require a huge investment in updated equipment,” Thaxton said. “Today’s graduates must be skilled in faster performing equipment, encryption, network support, antivirus protection and intrusion prevention. Our current routers lack the capability. The CISCO routers purchased with the grant will provide this necessary training.”
The switches and associated software purchased with the grant offer new security features, centralized management and wireless capability, Thaxton told those attending the presentation. “These features are not found in the older switches – now our graduates will be adequately trained,” Thaxton said. “This grant links technical education with some of the issues that are valued by our speaker today, information sharing, data gathering, fast-response and high-tech capabilities.”

Thaxton introduced Chambliss and reminded him when local citizens attend OTC to get their training, they are well prepared to “get the job” and also to get the “jobs of tomorrow,” thanks in large part to the USDA grants. “On behalf of the students at Okefenokee Technical College, the OTC Board of Directors, the Foundation Trustees, and faculty, staff, I would like to welcome U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss and Stone Workman to this big check presentation, funds that directly support workforce training,” Thaxton said.

“ I also want to thank Senator Chambliss and Workman for their support of the USDA Rural Business Enterprise Grant program and the support shown to Okefenokee Tech,” Thaxton said. “Tommy Hatcher and Ricky Sweat, the USDA staff assigned to our area, have been genuine partners with the OTC staff who worked on the grant, Pam Farr, Danita Cannon, Derrell Harris and Eddie Murray. A special thank you to all of you.”

“The work at Georgia’s technical colleges is second to none,” Chambliss said. “Not everybody can graduate and go to UGA or GSU. Some folks want to start making money in a hurry and that’s where OTC comes in with workforce training. I can’t think of a better program.” Sen. Chambliss commended Eddie Murray and Derrell Harris, both of whom are integral to OTC’s IT program.
He also pointed out that the check OTC received was not an earmark, the school and its staff earned it.

“Sure, we need to fund urban areas, but there are a lot of problems in rural areas as well. Urban gets all the headlines but the USDA program recognizes rural America,” Chambliss said. “We must help develop rural America.”
The updated CISCO equipment consists of Linksys Wireless-N Broadband Routers, Cisco Integrated Services Routers, Serial WAN Interface Cards, Serial Cables, 24 Port Switches, Wireless PCI and CardBus Adapters.
The Computer Information Systems (CIS) program at Okefenokee Tech emphasizes a “hands on” learning approach and has a high percentage of program graduates being placed in the field with local businesses upon graduation. The placement rate in 2006 and 2007 was 100 percent and 71 percent, respectively, Workman said.

Okefenokee Tech is contributing $210,842 in salaries, benefits, supplies and equipment. The project is expected to save 60 jobs in the community and create 16 new jobs. OTC serves Ware, Bacon, Brantley, Charlton, Clinch and Pierce counties.

Funds are from the Rural Business Economic Development grant program, which funds projects that stimulate the economy or create jobs. Okefenokee Tech received an RBEG for $99,999 in 2007 and for $77,500 in 2006. In 2006, the school also received a $17,500 Community Facilities grant.

After the presentation, State Representatives Mark Williams of Jesup and Mark Hatfield of Waycross were introduced and spoke briefly. OTC then served a variety of refreshments to those attending.

Photo By MYRA THRIFT
OTC president Dr. Gail Thaxton and OTC Foundation Board chair Larry Paulk accept a big check from U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss (third from right) and Stone Workman (second from left), of the U.S. Department of Agriculture while State Rep. Mark Williams (left) and State Rep. Mark Hatfield (right) watch.


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