Grant brings "virtual reality" welding to RCCC

SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) - From Rowan Cabarrus Community College: Duke Energy and Rowan-Cabarrus Community College today announced a $247,453 investment from the Duke Energy Foundation.

The funds will be used to integrate virtual reality welding into traditional welding curriculum to enhance the quality, quantity and efficiency of training – ultimately increasing the number of welders entering the field.

Virtual reality welding equipment eliminates the cost of the metal used in traditional welding classes. Additionally, the device scores each weld and gives immediate feedback to the student welder.

Other students can watch welds projected on a screen while the instructor teaches welding technique and theory. Each student will practice virtual welding before moving to the live welding in the lab.

"We are grateful to Duke Energy for their support of Rowan-Cabarrus Community College.

Their continued support has been vital," said Dr. Carol S. Spalding, president of Rowan-Cabarrus. "Our resources from the state have continued to decline year after year," continued Spalding. "Like many public organizations, we are looking to diversify our funding streams. Without continued investment in advanced technology and manufacturing, we cannot hope to compete. Industries are attracted to areas by the promise of a trained or trainable workforce – if we don't have cutting edge advanced technology training and equipment, we cannot hope to develop a more prosperous region."

With the new virtual reality welding equipment, the College's Welding Technology program will pilot a mobile welding lab at a Cabarrus County high school. If this on-site program with the virtual reality welding equipment is successful, we will expand the program to additional schools in Rowan and Cabarrus counties.

"The long term goal of this project is to provide increased access to advanced welding training. Traditional welding training has high material and electric costs. This project will enhance the College's ability to reduce these costs and align with institutional efforts to be a sustainable campus," said Spalding.

A key component of the grant is the partnership with local high schools. Rowan-Cabarrus offers high school students tuition-free courses for college credit through the Career & College Promise program. Career & College Promise allows students to simultaneously enroll in high school and college so that they can receive both high school and college credit for courses taken as part of the program.

"This tuition-free program for high school juniors and seniors gives them the opportunity to get a 'jump start' on a two-year or four-year degree while still in high school," said Dr. Rod Townley, vice president of the College's academic programs.

Rowan-Cabarrus offers options for students to get a head start in careers like fire protection, criminal justice, machining, web technologies, welding and more. In addition the College offers college transfer and general education classes as part of the Career & College Promise program.

"It's been a pleasure to work with Rowan-Cabarrus Community College. We look forward to continuing our relationship and working in partnership to make a difference in our community," said Randy Welch, district manager, Duke Energy Carolinas. "This is the fourth grant from our Community College Grant Program that Rowan-Cabarrus has received. Glad to see these funds are being used locally to make a difference."

The total investment from Duke Energy over the last few years has been nearly $1 million – $984,671. This grant is part of Duke Energy's $6.7 million investment in North Carolina's Community Colleges' focus on technical education and support of business and industry.

Since 2004, Duke Energy has awarded $15 million in grants to 24 community colleges within the Duke Energy Carolinas service area. This new $6.7 million investment also includes community colleges located in the Duke Energy Progress service area.

Individual community colleges can apply for funds through the Foundation for the Carolinas (Duke Energy Carolinas customers) or NC Community Foundation (Duke Energy Progress customers). Applications will be reviewed by a committee of representatives from Duke Energy, NC Community College System and NC Department of Commerce.