By JEROD CLAPP
NEW ALBANY —
As 3-D printers created models from student designs and computers ran animations from undergraduates on Friday, Gov. Mike Pence said he was impressed with what was going on in New Albany’s Purdue campus.
But as he thanked Paul Moses, director of the Purdue Technology Center of New Albany, for the facility tour, the ability of faculty and students was apparent throughout in Pence’s mind -- despite all the high-tech gadgetry.
“What an impressive facility, and the people are more impressive than gadgets,” Pence said. “You just sense there’s a tremendous atmosphere of creativity and enthusiasm here.”
During his visit, Pence said he wants to see more facilities like the city’s Purdue campus — part education, part business.
He said with the research park and courses being taught in the same facility, it could help students get a leg up on getting jobs once they graduate.
“I was extremely impressed with the faculty and the students that I met,” Pence said. “But I was even more impressed with that, I think, this is the only facility of its kind in the state that combines a business incubator with an educational environment.”
He said getting businesses and educational facilities to work together is crucial to getting the economy of the state moving in a more positive direction.
But he said those kind of working relationships shouldn’t belong exclusively to colleges. In a roundtable discussion following the tour, he said he wants to see high schools get on board with working with businesses to educate students.
He said while college is a path many students take after leaving high school, educators need to be aware that technical and vocational education shouldn’t be last resorts for pupils.
“I’m not talking about, we’ve got a Plan A education for some kids in high school and a Plan B education,” Pence said. “I’m talking about two plan A [models].”
But Kimra Schleicher, whose family operates several Kentucky Fried Chicken stores, said schools need to work on teaching students basic skills before entering the workforce.
“A lot of these students, if the registers go down, they can’t even add and subtract,” Schleicher said. “It’s very, very concerning to us about some of the curriculum [in high schools].”
Pence said he’s heard that same concern across the state and said it needs to be addressed.
“I’m not surprised to hear that, I’ve had some degree of experience with that myself,” Pence said. “That’s a big part of this issue. I never want to be myopic on the issue of saying it’s all about industry certifications... The employers I talk to are just as interested in what they call soft skills.”
Jerrol Miles, owner of Milestone Realty Group in New Albany, said students being taught to pass tests more than to learn also is a problem.
In an interview after the meeting, Pence said he thought making sure schools teach the basic skills, but also allow for opportunities to work with businesses, students and local economies can benefit.
“Business can only grow if they have people that are able to come in and fill those good-paying jobs,” Pence said. “It’s good for the students and it’s good for the Indiana economy.”
He said all over the state, he’s seeing those kinds of partnerships popping up, but he’s glad to see Southern Indiana continue its work with Purdue and the Prosser Career Education Center — which gives high school students in several counties hands-on experience in different career fields.
“I think this is one of the most exciting and promising areas of the country given the tremendous commitment made,” Pence said. “I do think making sure we think of fresh new [ideas} and bring new energy to the workforce will unlock all the potential for Southern Indiana.”