By Aila Boyd

Amy White, a Buchanan resident, was recently appointment to the state Manufacturing Development Commission by Gov. Ralph Northam.

Amy White
Photo by Aila Boyd

White, the dean of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) at Virginia Western Community College, explained that she was contacted by the governor’s office and urged to apply to the commission. Following the application process, she was notified that she had been selected to serve as a citizen member of the commission.

The Manufacturing Development Commission meets several times a year. It is comprised of members of the House of Delegates, the Senate, citizens, and Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. The job of the commission is to meet with various people and organizations from across Virginia that have interest in manufacturing in order to identify and address needs.

The commission has not met since White’s appointment, but she said that she’s looking forward to meeting her fellow members and being a part of the work that the commission does.

Her work on the commission will tie into the work that she’s already doing at Virginia Western. White specifically mentioned the mechatronics degree programs that the college offers as expanding the region’s manufacturing capabilities. “Mechatronics is a combination of mechanical and electrical engineering, as well as IT and coding. It brings together some of the cutting-edge technology that is used a lot in advanced manufacturing,” she said.

She noted that when Eldor Corporation decided to locate in Botetourt County, it cited the college’s mechatronics program as one of the reasons why it decided to do so.

We are very closely allied with the manufacturers in the region. We try very hard to get industry input into our curriculum and coursework. We have a curriculum advisory committee that involves members of the manufacturing community in our service region that meets twice a year so that they can inform us about what they need,” White said. She added that the close partnerships that the college has with local manufacturers ensures that it produces the “most relevant and ready graduates.”

As she waits for the first meeting to roll around, White said that she’s anticipating strongly advocating for manufacturing in southwest Virginia.

Geography is a big deal. Region is a big deal. I want to represent this region as well as the college and our local area,” White said. “I want to look at how this region can benefit manufacturing and how manufacturing can benefit us. I plan to look for good fits and I hope that I’m a good collaborator. I think I can bring people together to address needs and goals.”

White added that she feels that by having manufacturing efforts across Virginia unified, stronger results will be yielded. Additionally, White said, by unifying efforts, redundancy can be avoided. “If we’re all well-informed about what each other are doing, we can share some common responsibilities to make life easier for everyone,” she said.

When speaking directly about the contributions that Virginia Western is making to local manufacturing, White noted that the college offers Siemens Mechatronic Systems Certification, an internationally recognized manufacturing credential. In order to be certified to teach the courses required for the certification, faculty members traveled to Germany and underwent the required training. “It broadens what we can offer our employers. It also makes our students very attractive and hopefully well-trained,” she said.

As for the state of manufacturing in general, White stressed that “it’s not your grandfather’s assembly line.” She said that manufacturing is “clean, sophisticated, and very technological.”

You can really grow and challenge yourself in the industry, so it’s a really great industry for people to enter,” she said.

A microbiologist by training, White explained that she’s fairly new to manufacturing and engineering. “I’ve been learning more about both since I took my current position,” White said in reference to her decision to go from being a member of the biology faculty to dean of STEM. She has been a Virginia Western for a total of 15 years, four of which have been spent as dean.

This is another way Virginia Western can be a good industry partner,” White said of her appointment.