VOLT Institute

VOLT Institute Implements Changes for Enhanced Realism in Training

Enhancing Practical Skills and Safety: VOLT Institute is rolling out changes starting this March to make its training more reflective of real-world job experiences in production settings. Key updates include a stricter emphasis on attendance, punctuality, continuous safety practices, and lean manufacturing principles, notably 5S and TIMWOODS wastes, along with GEMBA, JIT, and Kaizen for continuous improvement. Shifts and Timeclock Integration: To mimic actual job settings, students will now use a timeclock for tracking attendance, refer to sessions as “shifts”, and participate in shift change meetings to discuss safety, key topics, and foster engagement in learning and skills development.

Expanding Access with VOLT On the Go (VOTG)

Reaching Underserved Communities: Funded by an Economic Development Administration (EDA) grant, VOTG aims to extend VOLT’s educational offerings to investors and underserved communities. The program provides practical knowledge in essential technical areas through a hands-on approach, enabling entry into the job market. Partnerships with Amatrol and SACA support equipment provision and micro-certification, ensuring significant skill development. Successful Launch and Future Plans: The VOTG Mechanical Drives course, initiated in partnership with Turlock Adult School, saw a promising start with 13 attendees learning vital mechanical skills. With more classes on the horizon, these courses, free to the public via an EDA grant, offer invaluable “hands-on” training within local communities.

VOLT On the Go Gains Momentum

Highlight at Economic Elevate: At the recent Turlock Economic Elevate, VOLT showcased the VOTG program’s potential to empower local communities and attract investor interest. Demonstrations of Amatrol’s portable training units underscored the program’s flexibility and efficiency in delivering technical skills training on the go.

New Scholarship Opportunities

Supporting Local Residents: New scholarships, thanks to contributions from several city councils and Aemetis Inc., are now available for residents interested in pursuing maintenance mechanic careers at VOLT Institute, demonstrating ongoing community support and commitment to workforce development.


‘University Community Development’ dream is alive and well

The Virginia Smith Trust — which at one time controlled all the land that UC Merced is on, and the land south of the University on Old Lake Road — is still very active.

There’s a plan that’s moving along to boost an already significant scholarship fund for high school students across the county through the development of a University Community on the remaining VST land, near the campus.

This plan includes the construction of 4,000 dwelling units for all income levels, 862,000 square feet of retail/office space, a K-8 school, a fire station, sports park and recreation center, a MCOE Scholars Academy, and its own police sub-station.

All of this is making its way through the local government approval process and state review. The plan is expected to take 15 years for completion, and the backers of the project are optimistic of receiving the go-ahead. It is the only project which presently has all the environmental clearance for such a project in that northern area of Merced.

It is a major undertaking; however, when it’s completed, it will meet the dreams of the Virginia Smith family in providing scholarships for students to go to get their degree.

Not everyone is on board. There is an element of the city saying, “This is great for the north part of the city, but what about South Merced, and what about affordable housing?”

Steve Peck, the project manager, spoke at the Merced Rotary Club last week and answered questions about the plan and timetable for meetings with the various agencies. He said it was a case of completing the promise made many years ago.

“We don’t want to take anyone for granted,” Peck said. “This is really about providing a means for our local children to gain a college education.”

While the terms of the Virginia Trust make it clear the scholarship program is for four-year college programs, it does not exclude Merced College which now offers some four year degrees.

Without the Virginia Trust there is no way UC Merced would have located in the Merced area. When the decision was made to locate the UC campus, both Madera and Fresno were in the race and seemed to have the upper hand. Bob Carpenter and other people like Tim O’Neill were major players in bringing the university to Merced.

Even after Merced was named as the location for the university, a major legal challenge forced it to locate on a public golf course, and not on the other side of the lake where many thought it should be built. The opponents used the Fairy Shrimp species as a means of challenging the use of most of the land given to the UC Merced by the Virginia Smith Trust, which is essentially made up of Merced County Office of Education Board members.

In getting the California Regents to decide on Merced for its location, the local committee came up with a stroke of genius and asked the school children to sign post cards urging the Regents to locate in Merced. At a critical time those postcards arrived at the Regents meeting and the result was tremendous. Merced was decided as the best location.

As the Virginia Smith project winds its way though the labyrinth of meetings, the first one was held on July 12 at the county’s Planning Commission, to be followed by a second meeting of the commission on Aug. 9. The Merced County Board of Supervisors will hear the proposal on Aug. 22. Then a tentative meeting with the Merced City Council is set up for Oct. 6 over the need to annex the area, perhaps in December.

If all goes well, the Virginia Smith Project will start on January of 2025, and they are hoping to have the first homes for sale or rent on June in 2026. Completion of the project is slated for 2042.


West Hills College officials host groundbreaking for new Lemoore Visual Arts and Applied Science Building in Lemoore

On Friday morning this week, West Hills College Lemoore officials and guests hosted a groundbreaking ceremony at its campus in Lemoore to celebrate the construction of a new Visual Arts & Applied Sciences (VAAS) Building.

Guests were told that this state-of-the-art, 44,382-square-foot facility will serve as a hub for laboratory classrooms, career technical education programs, and nursing and health careers, addressing the growing demand for high-paying jobs in our community.

The VAAS building will be a cornerstone in the college’s mission to provide students with innovative educational opportunities and practical skills. Modern laboratories will allow students to gain hands-on, high-paying jobs in the community.

College officials say the VAAS building is set to be a cornerstone in the college’s mission to provide students with innovative educational opportunities and practical skills. Modern laboratories will offer students the chance to gain hands-on experience in various fields. At the same time, dedicated spaces for career technical education and health career programs will ensure that the curriculum is aligned with local industry needs, preparing students for in-demand jobs and contributing to the region’s healthcare workforce.

“This new building is another significant step forward in our commitment to delivering high-quality education and training opportunities to our students,” said West Hills College President James Preston in a press release before Friday’s groundbreaking ceremony.

“The VAAS building will feature an innovative blend of educational programs in the areas of Health Careers, Information Technology, and Visual Arts that will empower our students and community and enhance our capacity to meet local industry demands,” said Preston.

The groundbreaking ceremony signifies the beginning of a new era for the college and represents a substantial investment in the future of education and the economic vitality of the community.


West Hills College Lemoore Awards Nearly $200,000 in NSF S-STEM CORES Scholarships

West Hills College Lemoore recently awarded National Science Foundation (NSF) S-STEM CORES Scholarships to 20 STEM students studying Biology, Engineering, Physics and Math.

The scholarships, valued at up to $10,000 annually per student ($5,000 per semester) for a maximum of four semesters, are part of WHCL’s commitment to developing future STEM leaders, the school stated in a release.

Recipient students will find comprehensive support, including a dedicated faculty mentor and complementary tutoring for courses, monthly cohort meetings and seminars, field trips each semester, and paid research opportunities. Thanks to the scholarship, two students will have the chance to attend conferences a year.

“To be eligible, students must be enrolled at West Hills College Lemoore in a STEM major, exhibit academic dedication, and genuine financial need,” said Kurt Sterling, Dean of Education at WHCL. “Our college wants to make it easier for students to tackle their living expenses and basic needs while focusing on academics. We hope that these scholarships contribute to their success.”
This academic year, the college will distribute nearly $200,000 in NSF S-STEM CORES Scholarships, half of which is being disbursed today. A second distribution is planned for the next semester.

“The access to SI tutors, myriad STEM opportunities, and activities have been invaluable. I’m also grateful for the MESA program and future internship opportunities,” said Emily Rocha, a WHCL Biology sophomore and first-time recipient.

Next year, Rocha plans to transfer to a four-year university, aiming for a healthcare career.

The president of WHCL, James Preston, added, “Our mission is to remove barriers and provide opportunities. These scholarships are more than just financial aid; they invest in our students’ futures and potential to contribute to the STEM community.”


Fresno Unified gets ‘game-changing’ $20 million gift from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott

Fresno Unified Superintendent Bob Nelson was poised to announce great news at a gala event this week: The district’s new foundation had successfully raised $200,000 in college scholarships, mainly from employees. Then he received an unsolicited and unexpected call that MacKenzie Scott, the former spouse of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, is giving the foundation 100 times that amount – $20 million – no strings attached. The bank transfer arrived last Friday. Nelson, normally garrulous, didn’t know what to say. “I’m rarely at a loss for words, but this might be one of those times,” he said. Scott, whom Forbes listed as the 18th richest American in 2022 with a net worth of $38 billion, is a novelist turned philanthropist who appears in a hurry to meet her pledge to give most of her fortune away – and then some. Since 2019, she has donated $12 billion to more than 1,200 non-profit organizations. Fresno Unified apparently is the first school district in the United States to receive a grant.

Representatives of Scott are tight-lipped about her donations. They refer all inquiries to essays on the website Medium in which Scott lists all recipients and discusses her philosophy of giving.  No other school district was listed. The last entry was in March. Scott has given hundreds of millions of dollars each to big-name charities: YMCAs-YWCAs; Big Brothers, Big Sisters; Planned Parenthood; United Ways; Second Harvest. Her education giving in California includes CSU Northridge and other California State University campuses, Long Beach City College and other community colleges, advocacy and research nonprofits, including Learning Policy Institute, NewSchools Venture Fund, Kingmakers of Oakland, which focuses on developing Black boys to reach their potential, College Track, and the parent empowerment organization The Oakland REACH.

Nelson doesn’t know why Fresno Unified, the state’s third largest school district with 76,000 students, was chosen. The word from Scott’s representative, Nelson said, was “We’ve heard through multiple venues that the work happening in Fresno is meaningful, worthwhile, and something that we want to support.” “It’s left to us to connect the dots,” Nelson said. One initiative that could have drawn attention, he said, is the district’s dual-enrollment partnership with Benedict College, a historically Black college in South Carolina, and discussions to locate an HBCU in the Central Valley. About 8% of Fresno Unified’s students are Black. Education equity in higher education has been a focus of Scott’s giving.

Or perhaps, he said, it was the district’s efforts to promote student mental health. In August, Gov. Gavin Newsom chose McLane High to promote a $4.7 billion effort to ensure mental health and substance abuse help for Californians to age 25. McLane High has established a mental health hub with a dedicated staff of psychologists and social workers and “is a model for what we hope to achieve,” Newsom said.

Or, he speculated, it was the district’s participation in the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network, a national initiative that involves Fresno. The city’s big nonprofits, hospitals, Fresno City College, Fresno State, Fresno Pacific University are working together to improve health and education outcomes for kids, particularly the proportion of kids pursuing a BA degree, Nelson said. One of the funders of StriveTogether is Blue Meridian Partners, a philanthropic organization whose chief investment and impact officer is Jim Shelton, a former deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Education. Scott is also a funder of Blue Meridian. “I suspect many of the grants are relationship-driven,” said Don Shalvey, former deputy director of K-12 education at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, who is now CEO of San Joaquin A+, a nonprofit working to improve education outcomes in Stockton “I am thrilled for Fresno; this is terrific for the Central Valley,” said Shalvey. “They are unique where they are located and how they are thinking about doing things differently to meet the needs of all students.”

A message about the Valley

Unlike most foundations, Scott’s giving is based on trust. She sets no specific demands for using the money and doesn’t require filing quarterly expense reports. The only requirement is to report back on how the money will benefit Fresno children, Nelson said. The $20 million will enable the new Foundation for Fresno Unified Schools to create an endowment, producing $800,000 to $1 million annually, said Nelson, who is on the foundation board. Initially at least, the grant will enable the foundation to more than quadruple college scholarships. “I’m sure other interests will surface, but fundamentally the idea is that this provides college opportunities for our youth,” Nelson said. But as important as the money, which Nelson calls “a game changer,” is the message the grant sends.

With 90% of students qualifying for subsidized school meals, Fresno is the poorest large urban area in the state. It is not a place high on people’s list of places to move to. “I mean, as a Californian, Fresno’s the last pick for kickball on most occasions, right?” “From a very personal point of view, it’s just incredibly gratifying because I’ve been on this journey of constantly saying, ‘Really good things are happening here. Really wonderful people live here. The diversity of the valley, the agricultural roots of the valley, there’s so much good that’s here,’ “Nelson said. “Now there’s a philanthropist who is well known nationally saying, ‘Fresno, we really believe in the work you’re doing.’ That’s probably worth $20 million easily. The amount of perceptual change that can be generated by a gift such as this to the Valley – it’s almost immeasurable,” he said.


Fresno State awarded a $2.9M grant to support future health professionals

The California Department of Health Care Access and Information announced $40.8 million in grant awards to 20 organizations that support and encourage students from underrepresented regions and backgrounds to pursue healthcare careers, including Fresno State.

Fresno State will receive a $2.9 million award over five years, to be issued through the Health Professions Pathways Program. Other California State Universities awarded include California State University, Dominguez Hills ($3.3 million), San Diego State University ($2.5 million), and California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt’s Sponsored Programs Foundation ($498,000).

“The Health Professions Pathways Program will strengthen preexisting relationships and support building new partnerships,” said Lilia DeLaCerda, the principal investigator on the project and director of the Health Careers Opportunity Program at Fresno State.


UC Davis unveils plans for new agricultural research ‘hub’ funded by $50 million gift

The University of California, Davis, will build a $40 million agricultural innovation center later this decade, a “transformative” expansion to the school’s food science and sustainability programs, after the university on Thursday announced its largest gift ever bestowed by individual donors.

Billionaire philanthropists Lynda and Stewart Resnick are giving $50 million to UC Davis: $40 million toward the Lynda and Stewart Resnick Center for Agricultural Innovation, a 40,000-square-foot, LEED-certified “hub” that will include classrooms and research space; plus $10 million for competitive research grants in the field of agriculture. “This gift will extend our efforts to lead field-level research, analyze big data, rapidly breed plant varieties that can adapt to our changing climate and fine-tune existing crop varieties,” UC Davis Chancellor Gary S. May said at an event Thursday morning, unveiling the donation at the Mondavi Center.  “We’ll do this by educating and training these future generations to help us meet the demands for feeding communities in a swiftly changing environment.”

University leaders said the innovation center will focus on five main research areas: solutions for agricultural byproducts; water and energy efficiency; technology development; crop resiliency and sustainability in the face of climate change; and expanding access to nutritious food. “It will serve as an anchor for new ideas, bringing together experts from across disciplines at UC Davis to focus research on California’s iconic specialty crops, such as pistachios, almonds and pomegranates,” the chancellor said.

To that end, the Beverly Hills-based Resnicks are founders of the Wonderful Co. food empire, which produces pomegranates, pistachios and more. Stewart and Lynda Resnick are among the most successful and powerful agribusiness tycoons in California. “We share a passion for progress at the intersection of agriculture, science and sustainability,” Andy Anzaldo, the Wonderful Co. chief operating officer of philanthropy, said Thursday.

Anzaldo spoke on behalf of the Resnicks, who had been slated to appear at Thursday’s announcement but were unable to make it after President Joe Biden’s arrival in Los Angeles disrupted air traffic, delaying flights out of Southern California. “Working together through research and its practical application in our fields, we are racing to make crops more productive, using fewer resources and feeding the world,” Anzaldo said. “That’s one of the reasons why I’m proud this new center will be the hub for the best researchers in the world to help agriculture be part of the solution.”

Design for what May called a “cutting-edge” research center will begin later this year with construction estimated to be complete by 2026. It will be built near the school’s current plant sciences building. The Resnicks’ donation comes amid the university’s “Expect Greater” initiative – a fundraising campaign launched in 2020 aiming to raise at least $2 billion toward “student support, health, climate change and more” by 2024. UC Davis is on track to exceed that goal, already past $1.7 billion after raising $323 million during the 2021-22 fiscal year. Founders of the Wonderful Co. food empire, Forbes magazine estimates the Resnicks’ net worth at $8 billion.

Through their farming operations, the couple is also one of the largest consumers of water in California, if not the largest. Forbes has estimated that the Wonderful farms, which sprawl across thousands of acres in the southern San Joaquin Valley, use as much water in a year as the city of San Francisco consumes in a decade. The UC Davis donation is not the Resnicks’ first major gift to a California higher-ed campus. Caltech recently broke ground on an environmental sustainability research center bankrolled by a $750 million pledge from the couple. Stewart Resnick is also a member of the UC Davis Chancellor’s Board of Advisors, a group of nearly two dozen influential figures including Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and Kings owner Vivek Ranadive.


Central Valley Ag launches 2023 Scholarship Program

YORK — Central Valley Ag (CVA) launches its annual scholarship program for students pursuing higher education in an agriculturally related field. CVA will award 20 $1,000 scholarships.

“CVA is committed to improving, encouraging and enabling the healthy development of youth throughout the region,” said Chad Carlson, SVP of Talent at CVA. “And by helping our youth pursue their agricultural career, we ensure that the agricultural industry continues to grow.”

This scholarship program enables youth to continue their education on a collegiate level. Based on academic achievement, service to local communities, and knowledge of the cooperative system, the CVA Scholarship Committee will select the winners of each scholarship.


California is giving millions of kids up to $1,500 for college or career training. Here’s how to get it.

Millions of kids in California can now claim at least $50 to put toward post-high school education, thanks to a new state program that launched earlier this month. The so-called Cal KIDS program’s launch comes amid rising concern about college costs in California. It’s the result of a policy effort led by Assembly member Adrin Nazarian (D–North Hollywood), who has been working on related legislation since 2014, and invests seed funding into a college savings plan for newborns and eligible public-school students.

He compares Cal KIDS to Social Security. “We’ve put into place the safety net when you’re aging, but we haven’t really necessarily made the appropriate investments for the youth who are just now starting in life,” he said. The program officially got approved in 2019, when Assembly Bill 15 passed, but was expanded last year via Assembly Bill 132. AB15 established the universal college savings plan for newborns, while AB132 allotted additional one-time and ongoing funding to provide more for low-income public-school students, foster youth and homeless children.

Max Vargas, the vice president of economic justice at the Latino Community Foundation, says the program is a great example of policy driven by equity: It has both a universal approach, and a targeted one. Latinos are the majority racial group in the California population, and they are also the group that reports the most financial need at state public universities, according to a 2021 report from the Public Policy Institute of California.

Vargas said he hopes the state continues to think about how to reach communities with the highest need for the program. “Where the need is highest, that often, sometimes, is where the trust might be lowest,” he said. “One number that jumps to mind for me is that 43% of Latino households are unbanked or underbanked — that’s not just because they didn’t hear about a bank, it’s also because they didn’t trust in some of those programs.” He said to build that trust, the state needs to reach out to partners on the ground who are able to connect with communities in both linguistically and culturally relevant ways.

Julio Martinez is the executive director of the ScholarShare board, which manages the Cal KIDS program. He said some of the state’s current partners are the California’s Department of Education and organizations that work with parents of newborns, like United Ways of California and First 5 California.

CalKIDS has a sign-up form for interested partners on its website open to public agencies and community-based organizations. “Just like with newborns, every single [eligible] public school student and their families will get a letter in the mail as well to notify them of this program,” he said. Here are answers to how you can access the money, eligibility requirements and more.

Who is eligible for the program?

All kids born in California from July 1, 2022, onwards and low-income public-school students in grades 1 through 12. You do not need to be a U.S. citizen to be eligible, which Nazarian said has always been his intention for the program. “It does not matter who you are, what your family standing is — if you were born in California, or if at some point you’re a student in California who moved in by the time you’re in first grade, you will be able to take advantage of this program,” he said. “The goal is to tell everyone, every California resident, you have an opportunity to be invested in.”

There is an eligibility tool public school students and guardians can use to figure out if they have a CalKIDS account. The CalKIDS website translates into 16 different languages, including Spanish, Hmong, Tagalog, Farsi, Vietnamese and simplified Chinese. You’ll need your Statewide Student Identifier, which you can see on your report cards or get via asking your school or school district directly.

How much money is available through the program?

Kids born on or after July 1, 2022, have a baseline deposit of $25 into their CalKIDS account, upped automatically to $50 once parents create an account online. The state has 90 days to receive birth data and create an account, so there may be a lag before a newborn’s account is created. If parents or guardians link a new or existing ScholarShare 529 account to their newborn’s CalKIDS account, they get an additional $50 deposit. Eligible low-income public-school students in grades 1 through 12 have a baseline deposit of $500 into their CalKIDS account. An additional $500 is deposited into the account for foster youth and homeless students.

What do I need to claim my CalKIDS account?

To claim the account, you’ll need to register online. There are three pieces of information the system asks for; no social security or taxpayer identification number is needed to access the money.

For an account linked to a newborn, you’ll need:

  • The name of the county where the child’s birth was registered
  • The child’s date of birth
  • Registration code, which can be either the local registration number located on the birth certificate or the unique CalKIDS code included in the letter sent out to eligible families

For an account linked to an eligible 1st through 12th grade student, you’ll need:

  • The name of the county where the student was enrolled in public school as of Oct. 6, 2021 (the Fall Academic Census Day 2021)
  • The student’s date of birth
  • Registration code, which can be either the Statewide Student Identifier (SSID, check student report cards or contact the school or school district to get this information) or the unique CalKIDS code included in the letter sent out to eligible families

What else do I need to know about the money?

The money from the account can’t be retrieved and used until a student turns at least 17 and is ready to enroll at an institution of higher education, Martinez said. For parents or guardians to directly contribute to a college savings account, they’ll have to open a separate ScholarShare 529 plan. A ScholarShare 529 plan offers parents 17 different investment options, with the most common one being an “age-based portfolio.”

That age-based mode of investing is what happens to the money allotted through the CalKIDS program. The money isn’t taxed as long as it’s used for tuition, room and board, books, supplies or computer equipment at a qualified higher education institution, which can include community college, trade school or a four-year university.  To opt out of the CalKIDS account for any reason, you’ll need to print out and mail a completed opt-out form, available in English and in Spanish, to the ScholarShare Investment board.