Sowela partnering with industry

Governor tours community college

Gov. John Bel Edwards toured Sowela Technical Community College on Tuesday, marking his first visit to Lake Charles since announcing his reelection campaign last week.

Edwards dined in the culinary arts restaurant “The Landing,” toured seven campus locations, got a firsthand look at the college’s technologies, and vowed to continue funding education and workforce development.

The governor jokingly described the high-tech equipment of Sowela’s Regional Training Center and H.C. Drew Nursing and Allied Health Buildings as something out of the “Bat Cave” or “C.S.I.” David Lafargue, dean of the school of industrial technology, said the college is committed to “staying modern by partnering with industry.”

Neil Aspinwall, Sowela chancellor, said the feedback from industry leaders who serve on the curriculum advisory council helps the school keep up with the diverse businesses and industries represented in Southwest Louisiana.

During the visit, Edwards was shown a rendering of the new $10.2 million, 35,000-square-foot facility that will house the college’s new culinary, gaming and hospitality center. The state-funded facility is a project Edwards said he was proud to bring to Sowela.

Edwards also received renderings for Sowela’s new Process Technology Center. Nuria Reyes-Arias, executive director for institutional advancement, said it will house a working plant for students to get hands-on training in process technology and instrumentation. The college will privately fund the center to meet the demand of local industrial expansion.

“The idea that they took it upon themselves to move in that direction shows how responsive Sowela is under the leadership of Dr. Aspinwall,” Edwards said.

Sowela’s enrollment is up 9 percent from last year, an increase which Edwards called “most impressive.” He also remarked on the different age groups of students.

“I’m seeing students who are in their 30s, 40s and 50s training for a second career,” Edwards said. “They’re coming out and they’re getting the knowledge and skills they need to remain in the workforce, be productive and have a good quality of life going forward.”

Edwards said he wants to “continue to fight for stable funding” for education and keep Louisiana off its earlier “disastrous path” of cutting funds and raising tuition.

This year, he said he is working with state lawmakers across party lines to secure a “long overdue pay raise” for the state’s teachers and support personnel. Edwards said he wants a $1,000 raise for teachers and a $500 raise for support workers this year in order for teacher pay to reach the Southern regional average within three years. Louisiana’s teacher compensation is currently below the Southern average by $2,200.

“The most important ingredient, still, for quality education and producing the educational outcomes we want, is a highly motivated, professional, well-educated teacher in the classroom teaching within his or her area of certification,” Edwards said.

Edwards says he wants to fight for “stable funding” for education and keep the state off its earlier “disastrous path.”

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Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards tours the campus during a visit to SOWELA Technical Community College in Lake Charles, La., Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. (Rick Hickman/Lake Charles American Press)

Rick Hickman

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