Dr. Patricia Sims ushering in new era at Drake State Community & Technical College

Students at Drake State participate in paid apprenticeships at Frank Williams Dealerships, getting on-the-job training experience. (Photo: Drake State)


Dr. Patricia Sims, President of J.F. Drake State Community and Technical College

By Claire Aiello, Vice President, Marketing & Communications

Dr. Patricia Sims wants you to know she is ushering in a new era at Drake State. Sims has been president of the school for one year, and is working to improve different areas, including modernization of programs offered, more in-depth relationships with business and industry, and active community involvement.

Sims brings 25 years of experience to the role, working in Huntsville City Schools as a teacher and an administrator. She also previously worked as Dean of Instructional and Student Services at Drake State, then at Athens State University as the Dean of Education for five years, before returning to Drake in the fall of 2018.

“Wherever I go, I try to leave something that will be sustainable and make the institution better. In my previous role at Drake State, I worked to get the college accredited regionally. It had technical accreditation, but not regional accreditation through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). When I went to Athens State, as the Dean of the College of Education, I started masters-level programs there. I’m still looking for the big thing here.”

It is not lost on Sims that she follows four interim presidents in her role. She acknowledges the school has faced challenges, but says morale is up.

“I sense that everyone in the college feels like we’re going in the right direction, and we’re going there together,” said Sims. “Absolutely the college has gone through change, but we are all looking forward now, reaching out to business and industry, and they are embracing and working with us. That boosts the morale of faculty and staff, and for students to see prospective employers come to the college to see them – that validates the work we’re doing and the training they’re receiving. I think we’re definitely headed in the right direction as a team.”

Sims says some of her immediate goals are to modernize and upgrade equipment in the classrooms. That’s in progress, too — Drake State has secured almost half a million dollars for the machining and tool shops, and the school recently hosted machine tool manufacturing businesses to give feedback on the labs as they work to get more students in these pipelines ready for the workforce.

Toyota made a significant donation to Drake State in 2019, gifting two Corollas and 12 engines to help students. (Photo: Drake State)

Toyota’s $200,000 donation earlier this year of two Corollas and 12 engines is a gamechanger for students in the automotive technology program. Mazda Toyota has also provided mechatronics trainers, and any student at Drake State who completes the Manufacturing Skills Standards Council (MSSC) Certified Production Technician (CPT) training, and earns the certificate, is guaranteed an interview with the company. Drake State offers the certification through its workforce development program.

Students attend classes from Monday through Wednesday on campus, and this is strategic, so they can work the other days. This is especially beneficial for students who already have paid apprenticeships established with industry partners.

“Our goal has been to align the training we offer with the needs of employers, so we can stand up our apprenticeships and internships,” said Sims.

That type of partnership is already in place with Frank Williams Dealerships, for example. Students attend classes at Drake State the first part of the week, then work at the dealership the latter half, getting on-the-job experience. “These are paid positions so that they can still support their families and continue their education,” said Sims. She adds, she wants to continue this trend for every student.

“We don’t want students in welding working at McDonald’s,” Sims explained. “If you’re in welding, you should be working and training at a welding company. That’s the next big goal, to set up apprenticeship opportunities for each of our programs.”

Student Population

What would Sims like employers to know about the students at Drake State?

“When we invite companies to see our campus, I think they are often surprised because of our diversity,” she said. “That’s reflected in our faculty, staff and student body. Our students are committed. The average student age is 28. They’ve lived, they’ve had experiences, so when they come to us, they want to get trained and get in the workforce so they can improve the quality of life for their families. They’re well trained, and when they arrive at the door of employers, they’re ready to go to work.”

Drake State offers traditional enrollment (students who enter after graduating high school) as well as dual enrollment, adult education and workforce development. Dual enrollment in particular has grown — some students ride buses from high schools, or faculty visit the high schools for instruction. In addition, you’ll find homeschool students on campus.

Community Involvement & Future Plans

Drake State is working to increase its visibility in the community and nearby schools, so K-12 students think of Drake State as an option for their future. Recently, students and faculty participated in a cleanup day at nearby Martin Luther King Elementary as part of the Clean Home Alabama initiative. Nursing students will also host their kiddie clinic with these younger students soon, and Drake State will invite MLK students to visit the campus and see the ViziTech laboratory. This investment offers 3D augmented and virtual reality learning programs, enhancing laboratory training experiences for students. The college also offers summer camps, and tries to target students in the nearby community whose parents may not be able to afford a traditional summer camp.

Sims also plans to expand the campus. Alabama A&M University recently gifted a parcel of land which will allow for Drake State to grow its presence on Meridian Street. That is a long-term goal, as Sims is currently focused on expanding programs as they stand to help meet current workforce demands.

“There is a place for everyone here at Drake State. We’re here, we’re open, and we welcome people to come by and see the good work we’re doing,” said Sims. “Our goal as Huntsville’s community college is to grow and expand and do our part. My position is that every business, every educational entity, has a part to play. We all have to work together to meet the goal of adding 500,000 skilled workers to the workforce by 2025. I want to make sure that Drake State does its part.”

This article is published in the December 2019 issue of Initiatives magazine.