Volkswagen eLabs open in eight Hamilton County schools

Staff Photo by John Rawlston The Chattanooga Volkswagen assembly plant, located in the Enterprise South industrial park, is photographed on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Volkswagen Chattanooga announced Tuesday that eight of its 16 eLabs are now fully operational in Hamilton County schools.

The schools were selected by representatives from Volkswagen Chattanooga, Tennessee Department of Education, Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, Hamilton County Department of Education, and Public Education Foundation.

Volkswagen Group of America Chattanooga Operations, LLC in partnership with the HCDE and the State of Tennessee celebrated the grand opening of the Sale Creek Middle High School Volkswagen eLab during a ribbon cutting ceremony, according to a release.

The Sale Creek eLab, one of the schools that were selected for the first phase of installations in March of 2017, joins seven other schools that have fully functional labs as of fall 2017.

Schools with fully operational eLabs as of Fall 2017

-Chattanooga School for the Arts & Sciences -Dalewood Middle School -East Hamilton Middle High School -The Howard School -Hunter Middle School -Normal Park Museum Magnet School -Red Bank High School -Sale Creek Middle High School

"At Volkswagen Chattanooga we hold a deep, active and ongoing belief that education, whether at university, a middle school lab or an apprenticeship on the shop floor, is crucial to a successful career," said Ulrich Heimann, Executive Vice President of Finance & ITP Volkswagen Chattanooga, in the release. "These Volkswagen eLabs will teach hands-on, engineering-based learning, and we are excited that eight labs around the county are opening this school term to engage and inspire the imagination of children throughout the community," Heimann said.

Volkswagen eLabs, the result of a $1 million donation by Volkswagen Chattanooga and the State of Tennessee, will provide approximately 8,000 Hamilton County students access to science labs featuring rapid prototyping technologies including renewable energy components, laser cutters, CNC routers, 3D printers, robotics, microcomputers, and vinyl cutters.

Each Volkswagen eLab is staffed with a Volkswagen eLabs Innovation Team to ensure utilization to the maximum capacity. The teams are made up of highly trained teachers with specialized skills in facilitating learning through digital fabrication, according to the release.

Gov. Bill Haslam said the eLabs will help the Tennessee educational system succeed and that education is a "top priority."

"Through the eLabs, Hamilton County middle and high school students will have access to innovative programs that will equip them with skills they need to be successful in the future," Haslam said in the release. "Volkswagen has been a great partner for more than a decade, and we thank the company for its continued commitment to the state of Tennessee and Hamilton County."

The eLabs will be administered in partnership with the Public Education Foundation (PEF) an independent, nonprofit organization that provides training, research and resources to teachers, principals and schools in Hamilton County.

The schools are also each responsible for raising $5,000 annually in cash or contributed materials to ensure that the lab is continually refreshed and materials are replaced, according to the release.

HCDE Superintendent Dr. Bryan Johnson expressed his excitement to see how students respond to the eLabs.

"We all know STEM is one of the most important learning tracks for twenty-first century students as there will be 42,000 STEM jobs in the state of Tennessee alone within the next few years," Johnson said in the release. "Our amazing partnership with Volkswagen means our students will get the hands-on learning they need to truly be career and post-secondary ready."

Hamilton County middle & high schools will be able to apply for funds in 2018 to be chosen for the remaining eight Volkswagen eLabs.