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Staff photo by Tim Barber/ Tyner Future Ready Institute student Deshawn Bass smiles as he uses a hotstick to move a transformer fuse Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019, as part of a field trip to the Electric Power Board Operations Center 2. Watching from top left are, Antwon Bivins, William Austin and Jordan Manghane.
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Students at EPB operations center

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Trenton Quann first learned about the EPB Future Ready Institute of Technology and Networking when he arrived at Tyner High School earlier this year and was immediately intrigued by the prospect of becoming an ambassador in the program, getting a summer job and learning more about technology.

Since joining the program in August, the Tyner freshman said he has become interested in possibly becoming an electrical lineman.

"I've always been interested in technology and I like the idea of working as a lineman to help make sure people get their power," he said. "Maybe I'll try to work for EPB one day."

Quann's interest in the city-owned electric utility is a primary motivator for EPB's sponsorship of the training program at Tyner High School — one of 28 Future Ready Institutes being offered at 13 Hamilton County high schools this year.

Marie Webb, vice president of human resources at EPB, said EPB is eager to entice more skilled workers to join the utility in the future as EPB continues to evolve in the Internet age with its smart grid technology and fiber optic communications network.

"When we recognized that there was an opportunity to partner with Hamilton County schools and help solve the talent gap that we frequently experience, we were all in," she said. "We already recognized that the STEM (science, technology engineering and math) preparation for students was going to be fundamental in having the skilled workforce we need in the future. We're hoping that by planting the seeds today, these students are getting better prepared for post-secondary education and are prepared for the jobs we will have in the future."

On Tuesday, EPB hosted the 15 freshmen students in Tyner's technology institute at both the utility's operations center and its power control facility. The day began with Ryan Keel, an assistant vice president of EPB's electric system, explaining how power is produced, distributed and maintained by EPB. Students with the right answers were offered M&Ms or Twix candy bars.

Later, the class participated in a number of hands on activities with electric equipment and tools at EPB's nearby operations center.

Tuesday's sessions were among at least a couple of student visits by each class every year from the Future Ready Institute, which began at Tyner last year. Last summer, EPB also paid 10 students a $500 scholarship upon their high school graduation for participating in a 2-week exposure program, working in a variety of roles at EPB. Those age 16 and older will also be able to participate in one of the internships at EPB being offered through the Step Up summer intern program.

The technology training and experiences are also backed up with the encouragement and soft skills training offered in the classroom by one of EPB's IT support managers, Todd Edwards.

"My son plays football at Tyner so I am up there a lot and I try to provide some life lessons and talk to these students about what they need to do to succeed," said Edwards, a Tyner graduate who has worked at EPB for nearly 28 years. "It may not be their field of interest at the moment, but this exposes these students to a lot of things and opportunities they wouldn't otherwise know about. We've had a number of students switch their focus to join this technology institute and I think it makes a real difference for a lot of kids."

Erin Glenn, Tyner's Future Ready Institute coach, said the participating businesses in the institutes help students see the value and practical application of what they are learning in the classroom.

"Students are able to see how English, math, science and history will support their readiness to get a job," she said. "It also exposes them to real world work situations and gives them opportunities to consider their future careers and to get ready for those jobs."

Tyner also operates a health science institute in partnership with HCA Parkridge hospital and a teaching and learning institute in partnership with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340

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