OMIC Training Center’s New Director To Prioritize Marginalized Communities, Hands-On Learning.

Patty Hawkins, director of Portland Community College’s Oregon Manufacturing Innovation Training Center.

Patty Hawkins, who has spent over 22 years at PCC, says exposure to advanced manufacturing will bring the most students to the learning center.

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On Nov. 14, Patty Hawkins of Beaverton began her new role as director of Portland Community College’s Oregon Manufacturing Innovation Training Center.

Hawkins has worked at PCC for more than 22 year, most recently as faculty department chair of the school’s adult education program, and has been active as an Educational Advisory Council leader and chair of the curriculum committee since 2021, where she specialized in delivering educational opportunities to marginalized students.

The Scappoose-based, 32,000-square-foot facility opened in 2017. It’s the educational and training arm of the Oregon Manufacturing Innovation Center (OMIC) initiative — a statewide collaboration of industry, higher education and government that combines applied research and development and workforce training. 

The center houses a number of manufacturing-related programs — like machining, welding and mechatronics.

Hawkins sat down with Oregon Business to discuss her new role, and how she will define success as the training center’s new director.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You have spent 22 years at Portland Community College. How has your experience prepared you to helm the training center?

I spent the last 12 years as faculty department chair of adult education and in adult education. We’re serving some of the most marginalized students at the college. Working with students who are underrepresented in advanced technology fields was a key reason why I applied for this job.

Over the last five years, I have worked to bring adult education to Columbia County, and I really, really love the community out here. OMIC has such a unique opportunity right now. The previous director worked through COVID opening this building and getting the curriculum started, so although we’re not starting from ground zero, there is an opportunity to grow this training center.

This is an opportunity for PCC in general to become a training center hub for advanced manufacturing, which hasn’t been a focus in the past.

You mentioned bringing marginalized students to the center helps achieve that goal. How will you focus on attracting marginalized students?

Everyone sort of defines advanced manufacturing in a different way – it’s a huge term that encompasses everything from machining, to welding, to semiconductors, to working in a mill. But getting potential students to hear what the job market is like, and the availability of employment and the pay scale and the opportunities for growth in manufacturing right now, I think that’s a huge component.

The other really important piece to this is helping students understand learning in a way that’s hands-on, where they can come in and use the machines. It’s not only about selling the employment piece, but really showing them that learning can happen in all different ways – it doesn’t have to be in a classroom with a lecture. It can be this active, tactile approach to learning as well.

My biggest goal is to bring as many people to the training center as possible. We can talk all day long about all the amazing things that are here, but once you get people in, they’re like, “Wow, this place is amazing.”

We have some of the most cutting-edge technology here. And we have a strong partnership with OMIC R&D, which is right across the street. If we can get interested folks to the center to see the possibilities, I think that will be huge. Also, working with our K-12 partners, and our workforce development partners, they’re going to be a huge component. So that’s where we’re doing our targeted recruitment and having real intentionality about reaching groups that have been historically underrepresented in advanced manufacturing.

How are you structuring the education at OMIC to be compatible with different student’s needs and life schedules?

We’re focused on stackable credentials. Students start with one certificate, potentially go out and get employment, then they can come back and work on the next level of certificate.

Right now, we’re offering a pre-trades advanced manufacturing certificate, which gives students a little taste of advanced manufacturing and the different pieces of it. Students can go out and work, then return and work through a different certificate when they want to advance. Our goal is to create lifelong learners here.

We also offer adult basic education or adult education classes as well as IET, which is integrated education and training. It’s a way for students who have not received their GED to earn their certificate and work towards their GED at the same time by taking a support class. And that support class offers sort of contextualized learning so that they can not only reach or work towards preparedness for their GED exams, but also work towards their certificate program as well.

How are you using OMIC’s industry partners to shape the center’s curriculum?

Francoise Weaver is our business and industry liaison hero. He works with our business and industry partners to identify what their training needs are, and how we can how we can work with them to get those needs met.

We also offer customized workforce training. Right now, we’re offering a programmable logic controller course out at Brightline for their employees. Another partner of ours is Cascade Paper, which is right next door. We’re currently working with them to create customized training on safety and basic lubrication. We’re also working with the Vernonia school district to offer CPR training. It looks like we’re going to have about 70 folks to train. So that’ll be great.

A lot of our industry partners recognize that stackable credentials are valuable because our students can start with our pre-trades advanced manufacturing certificate, get their foot in the door, and then when those students decide they’ve mastered one component, the employers and the students know that student can come back to us and build on that stackable credential for the new job they want.

Not only is it beneficial for the student, but it’s also beneficial for the employer.

How do you hope to improve the center’s curriculum during your tenure as director?

There’s absolutely the technical aspect of learning how to use a machine and to basic programming, but to be honest with you, what we hear most from our industry partners is how they are really looking for those soft skills like teamwork, communication and collaboration. It’s great that students learn how to use these machines, but how can we contextualize those soft skills in a way that’s going to be meaningful for our students?

We’re going to be looking at how to expand our curriculum to meet those needs. What employers are really looking for are students who want to come in and not stay at that level but want to grow and have curiosity. So that’s another goal of mine is how do we incorporate soft skills into the technical curriculum.

What is the next project you are excited to work on at the training center?

I think one of our important success criteria is involvement with the community. And we’re hoping that the creation of our Fab Lab will be another mechanism to bring the community and, and, and meet the needs of the community as well.

It’s not built yet. We’re just getting certain components together. But what is going to be different about the Fab Lab is that it’s not a formal classroom. It’s a fabrication laboratory. So, whatever you can imagine that you would want to create, maybe it’s jewelry, T-shirts, leather belts or wallets, you can come in as a member of the community and create it.

The Fab Lab is really going to be a way for us to engage the community at our training center. The Columbia County community is so important to our success. And maybe some of the community members aren’t necessarily looking for an advanced manufacturing stackable credential, but they want to come, and they want to do 3D printing, or maybe they just want to get involved in some sort of noncredit kind of self-enrichment activity.

We’re going to have that option at the Training Center.

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