An Industry Education Partnership


The Starke County Initiative for Lifelong Learning (SCILL), an Internal Revenue Code 501(c)(3) organization, was established by the Board of Directors of the Starke County Economic Development Foundation (SCEDF) in 1996, to create and nurture a trained workforce for the growing industrial base in the County.

With the assistance of Ancilla College, the first year of classes began on August 20, 1999, when a grand opening of the facility at 1300 Kloeckner Drive in Knox, Indiana, took place in a former storm door company. The first year of classes concentrated on management/leadership and computer literacy courses. Sprint Telephone donated several used computers, which were used to enhance participants’ knowledge of computers and basic computer programs. Public participation, high enrollment rates and a favorable response from the business community positioned SCILL for success.

In 1997, encouraged by the success of the first year, Ivy Tech State College and Purdue University North Central began offering classes at SCILL, which was quickly and effectively filling a void in the County with regards to the educational attainment of its residents. It was determined at that point, however, that the focus of the educational programs offered also needed to include high school age persons, as well as adults.

In 1998, SCILL received a $250,000 grant from the Lilly Endowment Fund as a part of their GIFT program through the local Community Foundation. The grant allowed SCILL to purchase updated computer equipment and start two computer programming classes, known as CISCO and A+, which were first offered in the fall of 1999. Those programs were made available to the North Central Area Vocational Cooperative (NCAVC), which is the vocational educational organization for 10 high schools in four counties.

As these programs began to take root, an opportunity also came along to start an automobile technology program for the NCAVC schools. Through the generosity of the Knox Community Schools, space was found to relocate the computer classes, and in 2000, automobile technology classes began at SCILL. Since then, more than 2,000 students have graduated from that program, a two-year school for juniors and seniors. Those graduates have gone on to higher education, additional training, various union apprenticeships, and the military, where they use the skills obtained in that class. At this point in time, it is one of only two high school programs in the State of Indiana that is NATEF certified in all nine areas of certification.

Throughout its history, SCILL has arranged training for industrial employees, as well as offered several continuing education courses, along with computer classes and the automotive technology program. In 2012, in an effort to meet a growing national shortage of welders, SCEDF President Bill Sonnemaker appointed a Workforce Development Subcommittee charged with developing such a program. The result has been both a high school vocational program through NCAVC, as well as adult classes for beginners and those with some experience who wish to improve their skills and/or obtain certifications through the American Welding Society (AWS).

The Knox School Corporation has once again made space available for the program, and it's already proven successful. 29 twelve-week, adult training classes have resulted in more than 300 graduates, many of whom have obtained AWS certification in at least one area, with several receiving more than one certification. To date more than 500 students have been enrolled in the high school program and many of them have also received at least one AWS certification. The current enrollment is 49 students, and there is both a morning and an afternoon class.

Several years into its existence, SCILL continues to be faithful to its original mission of helping Starke Country residents attain life and job skills to become more productive employees and citizens and of helping industrial businesses grow and prosper in Starke County.