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Secretary of Education Cardona visits CCRI to advocate for more statewide CTE training

Secretary of Education Cardona visits CCRI to advocate for more statewide CTE training

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visited the Community College of Rhode Island’s Warwick Campus today to discuss the need for more career pathways and career and technical education (CTE) programming and apprenticeships, especially in Latine communities, as part of President Joe Biden's Investing in America Tour, aimed to demonstrate how President Biden is delivering for underrepresented or minoritized communities across the country. 

At the height of his visit, Cardona joined CCRI Interim President Rosemary Costigan, Rhode Island Governor Dan McKee and U.S. Congressman Gabe Amo to tour the Warwick Campus’ state-of-the-art advanced manufacturing lab, the hub for CCRI’s Advanced Manufacturing Technology program, which includes certificates in Manufacturing and Design and Advanced Manufacturing and 3D-Prototyping and an associate degree in Advanced Manufacturing and Design.

As a Hispanic-Serving Institution, which means at least 25 percent of its student population is Hispanic, CCRI plays an important role in increasing educational opportunities and access and success for the state’s Hispanic population. To further understand CCRI’s impact in the CTE landscape, Cardona spoke with Engineering Technical Professor Ray Ankrom and students currently enrolled in the college’s dual-enrollment Advanced Manufacturing Program with North Kingstown High School, which allows participants to earn a Manufacturing and Design Certificate from CCRI in their junior and senior years.

“The intentional collaboration I see in Rhode Island to provide opportunities and invest in people, I’m going to walk away saying, ‘More states need to do this,’” Cardona said. “It’s part of the fabric of the leadership to make sure the left hand knows what the right hand is doing. That’s not the case everywhere in the country. As we travel to other states and have conversations with governors and leaders, we’re trying to work toward what I see here in Rhode Island. Investing in America requires that intentional collaboration that we have here.

“You have a vision that connects to the workforce needs in the state and you take advantage of leaders like [President Costigan] who give students the skills that are needed for the careers that exist today. We have an opportunity in this country right now to modernize. It's not your grandparents’ dark, dirty, dingy work. I'm a graduate of a high school automotive technician program. I went to school to become a teacher. I didn't miss a beat. I had options when I graduated.”

“I’m very proud of the work CCRI has done,” Costigan said. “It’s not just enough to have [free] tuition. Life gets in the way, and when it does, that’s when our students are lost. We continue to work seamlessly with our Workforce division, our academic division, and our industry partners. It takes a community to come together. Today’s interactions were very inspiring and I look forward to more policies that support these programs as we look into the future.”

Cardona’s visit to CCRI also included a roundtable discussion with R.I. Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Angélica Infante-Green, R.I. Commissioner on Postsecondary Education Shannon Gilkey, R.I. Lieutenant Governor and CCRI alumna Sabina Matos, leaders of the RI Reconnect program, and students, many of whom thanked CCRI and RI Reconnect for providing them with the educational opportunities and the resources in and out of the classroom to earn a sustainable career in a high-demand field.

“I was looking for something to do. I wanted a new career path, something where I could earn my diploma and show my kids it’s not too late to go back,” said Fredy Vasquez, 38, of Johnston, RI, who enrolled at CCRI three times – first in 2006, again in 2013, and a third time in Spring 2024 to begin studying for his certification before entering the Advanced Manufacturing and Design degree program. “I’m excited to begin the process. I had my kids at a young age and was always focused on providing and making sure they had what they needed before I could go back to school. To finish will be a big accomplishment, not just for me but for them, too.”

Six years after enrolling at CCRI as a General Studies major with a concentration in Nursing, 24-year-old Guatemala native Geraly Cabrera of Glocester, RI, returned in Spring 2024 to pursue her associate degree in Education with a concentration in Early Childhood Education and Child Development. Her goal is to fulfill her dream of becoming a school teacher and “make my family proud of me.”

Inspired by the stories of those who’ve returned to CCRI after many years outside of the classroom or in the workforce, Cardona asked those in attendance – both students and educational leaders – to provide feedback on what the Biden Administration can do to make these goals more attainable. With industry partners in a variety of fields from Education and Healthcare to Manufacturing and Trades and Renewable Energy, CCRI provides an affordable education to students of all backgrounds and provides a pipeline of well-trained, skilled workers to satisfy the state’s workforce needs.

“The amount of attention that Rhode Island is getting from the Biden Administration is incredible and something the state hasn’t seen in a long, long time,” said U.S. Representative Seth Magaziner. “We want to compete on the global stage and we need to invest in education and workforce training and we need to lean more into career and technical education at the high school and in the higher-ed space like here at CCRI. We need to make education a national priority the way [Secretary Cardona] is talking about.

“We’re really proud of what’s happening at CCRI. Several years ago, Rhode Island made a choice that we were going to collaborate with employers, organized labor and other stakeholders to design programs that meet the needs of today’s economy. We’re not just handing students a piece of paper at graduation and sending them on their way. We’re collaborating with employers, labor groups, and others so when students get that diploma, they know there’s a good job waiting for them. That’s only made possible by the collaboration between education and industries. That’s what happening here at CCRI.”

In November, CCRI celebrated the official launch of its offshore wind safety training center at the Lincoln Campus – the first of its kind in Rhode Island – and was also selected as one of 17 new Industrial Assessment Centers (IAC) nationwide by the Biden Administration, which will help the college CCRI conduct energy audits and expand clean energy workforce training opportunities for in-demand, high-quality jobs and potentially result in significant federal funding.

“President Biden’s Infrastructure Bill is what is giving us this opportunity to put people to work,” Governor McKee said. “We’ve made a conscious effort to invest in projects that put people to work and pay dividends for years to come.”

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