FACULTY NEWS: Southwest rolls out faculty externship program

Dr. Derrick Wheatley, Business and Technologies Instructor

Dr. Derrick Wheatley, Business and Technologies Instructor

When Southwest announced the new faculty externship program during a virtual information session with a select group of local business owners June 11, the industry leaders were intrigued with the concept. President Tracy D. Hall informed the group that the College was focused on blurring the lines between the classroom and industry and would pay faculty to work onsite at their businesses as part of an innovative partnership.

Business leaders expressed immediate interest and the program rolled out this past July. Associate Dean of Professional Development Dr. Jennifer Townes says the goal of the program is knowledge sharing and a win-win-win for the faculty, industry partners and students. “It’s a mutually beneficial partnership that enables our faculty to provide expert assistance to a company, while gaining knowledge and experience on the latest technology and protocols in the workplace,” Townsend said. “The faculty pass on that knowledge and experience to our students who will enter the workforce.”

Three faculty from the Business and Technologies Division comprised the first cohort of externs: Dr. Derrick Wheatley, Antonio Hayes and Steven Taylor. All three instructors worked for a month at National Guard Products, a Memphis-based, life-safety products company that provides the commercial construction market with fire safety and protection accessories. “We chose NGP because it was a good match for both the faculty and our industry partner,” Townsend said.  

Wheatley said his assignment with the safety department in human resources was a natural fit for him.  “Before I started working in Higher Ed, I worked in jobs where HR was a part of my responsibilities,” he said.  Wheatley helped NGP establish a safety committee, revamp the employee newsletter and coordinate its annual hearing assessment. “Their newsletter was essentially a PowerPoint presentation. I introduced them to different desktop publishing software and we produced an engaging newsletter together. It was a great collaboration.”

Antonio Hayes, Engineering Technologies Instructor

Antonio Hayes, Engineering Technologies Instructor

Hayes and Taylor externed in operations and information technology, respectively. Hayes worked on the production floor reviewing the company’s shipping procedures. His insight and feedback were greatly appreciated by his fellow team members. In fact, NGP Chief of Human Resources Officer Rogia Williams mentioned that one of the site managers said of Hayes: “’If he ever wants to come back and help, we would be glad to have him.’”  

Taylor helped the IT department review project management software and launch ClickUp, a cloud-based project management tool designed to track help desk requests. Williams said Taylor “provided some excellent insights on training and change management that he learned from academia.”

Reflecting on his experience, Wheatley said the exchange between academia and industry was beneficial and helped him fine-tune his teaching and curriculum. “It’s good to reconnect with the industry because sometimes we cannot keep abreast of all of the changes,” he said. “This gives us a chance to stay current and relevant.”

Williams would like to continue the partnership. He said NGP enjoyed hosting the externs and providing an opportunity for them to gain hands-on experience. “We would enjoy hosting future externs, if the opportunity becomes available,” he added.

The faculty will spend fall semester incorporating what they learned into their lectures and will present their findings during professional development seminars in spring and summer. “This is just the beginning,” said Townes. “We will recruit more externs from other divisions in January 2021 for externships to start in late May or early June.”

For more information about the Faculty Industry Externship Program, contact Dr. Jennifer Townes at jtownes1@southwest.tn.edu.