Most students at Chattanooga State and other area colleges focus on graduating with a degree to help them land a job.
Bo Drake, the vice president of economic and workforce development at Chattanooga State Community College since November, sees the school a bit differently. To Drake, Chattanooga State is more than just a degree-granting institution to help students get trained and certified in different academic disciplines. Drake's job is to figure out what employers and entrepreneurs need, and then design courses and non-degree programs to help meet their needs without regard to the usual degree standards or academic calendar. Drake also oversees the local Tennessee Small Business Development Centers in Chattanooga, Dayton and Kimball, where counselors provide training and assistance for small business owners and other workforce development programs provided under contract with the Southeast Tennessee Development District.
"My job is to help identify the educational needs of area employers and how we can address those needs, either on campus or at the employer's work site," Drake says. "We provide on-the-spot, customized training for businesses and training opportunities for those starting a business or retraining for another career."
Drake grew up and spent his young-adult life in Ohio and Indiana. But two years ago, he was part of a local Chamber of Commerce group from Evansville, Ind., (including then Evansville Chamber President Christy Gillenwater who is now president of the Chattanooga Chamber) to study the Tennessee Promise program and how the Nashville Chamber worked with local colleges.
"I was so impressed by what I saw that I remember thinking to myself, 'I need to figure a way to work in Tennessee,'" Drake recalls. "I spent the next year and a half looking for a way to come to Tennessee."
Last fall, he found that chance at Chattanooga State shortly after Dr. Rebecca Ashford became the college president.
Drake began working in higher education five years ago after 11 years in the insurance industry as a claims adjuster, agent and consultant for Progressive, Nationwide and Benchmark Insurance and as director of insurance for the Ohio State Bar Association Insurance Agency. He was formerly executive director of Ivy Tech Corporate College, where earned an associate's degree in 1999 before earning a bachelor's degree from Northern Kentucky University and his master's in human services from Liberty University.
Chattanooga State has been provided specialized work training programs for more than 100 area businesses every year, but Drake said he is eager to expand that number.
"I think Chattanooga State is one of the best kept secrets in our region," he says. "Everybody knows who we are, but I'm not sure everyone knows all that we are capable of delivering to them at the business level."