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GE diversity initiative selects Greenville, pairs with Clemson for engineering education

Raylan Dawkins in GE GVL Plant

Edison Engineer for GE Gas Power Raylan Dawkins in the Greenville facility. Dawkins was a member of Clemson's PEER and WISE program before graduating last December with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering. In January, he began working at GE Power as an engineer. Provided/GE Gas Power 

GREENVILLE — A new engineering education initiative expects to impact 3,500 young people in Greenville in the next five years and increase diversity in the industry.

In April, the General Electric Foundation launched a $100 million decade-long global initiative called Next Engineers to diversify the engineering workforce. The program aims to reach 85,000 students ages 13 to 18 in 25 cities worldwide by 2030.

On Oct. 13, Greenville was named one of four inaugural locations selected to launch the program, along with Cincinnati, Ohio; Stafford, U.K.; and Johannesburg, South Africa.

GE Gas Power in Greenville will invest $5 million in a partnership with Clemson University's College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences to implement the Next Engineers program in the Upstate. Across the four locations, the GE Foundation is investing $16 million total, providing funding for 3,200 camp participants and 600 scholarships for academy participants.

Each section of the program — engineering discovery, engineering camp and engineering academy — is geared towards a different age group.

Engineering discovery, for ages 13 and 14, will increase awareness of the various engineering careers. Engineering camp, for ages 14 and 15, is a week-long camp during which students will interact with engineers and business leaders, and complete design challenges.

Engineering academy is a three-year college readiness program for ages 15 to 18. Students spend 80 hours completing challenges and capstone projects and receiving mentorship from industry professionals. Those completing the program are eligible for scholarships from the GE Foundation.

General Electric Power’s Advanced Manufacturing Works facility

General Electric Power’s Advanced Manufacturing Works facility in Greenville. Provided/Clemson University

Applications are currently being accepted for Engineering Academy. Only 50 applicants will be selected annually at each program location.

Tushar Desai, general manager of combined cycle plant engineering for GE Gas Power, has been involved in the preliminary stages of the Next Engineers program for the past six months, providing insight on what diversity means and the best plan moving forward.

Desai said 54 percent of companies globally are reporting talent shortages. Of the skilled engineering workforce right now, only 13 percent are Black or Hispanic. Desai said that GE managers and executives will spend thousands of hours to make this program successful in Greenville. 

Clemson’s Programs for Educational Enrichment and Retention (PEER) and Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) have a 30-year-old diversity and inclusion mission. Serita Acker, executive director of PEER and WISE, has hired graduate student Brittany Sanders to act as the project manager for Next Engineers in Greenville.

Acker and Sanders have identified Upstate schools with high populations of underrepresented students and are reaching out about the potential benefits of the program. So far, Clemson has recruited nine middle and high schools to participate in the program.

“When I think about the holding of hands of industry, community and the university in an initiative like this, to me it's my dream, and it's really what's going to be a game-changer,” Acker said.

GE and Clemson are longstanding strategic corporate partners. Nearly 400 Clemson alumni work for GE across its divisions. GE also hires Clemson students and graduates as interns and for co-op positions.

In March, GE Gas Power invested about $1 million into the university with the GE John Lammas Annual Scholarship program. The program will award 40 $8,000 scholarships annually for three years.

GE also sponsors the university’s annual Men of Color National Summit and is the lead sponsor for the inaugural women’s roundtable program Nov. 3 at the Greenville Convention Center. The roundtable will provide seminars and other activities for middle and high school girls.

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