UT Professional Development Center program uses funding cuts as opportunity for growth

Lizzie Jespersen

In the wake of recent federal budget cuts, one University program has had to restructure itself to re-brand and expand its services.

After losing all of its federal funding this Tuesday, the University of Texas Professional Development Center has restructured its Texas Mine Safety and Health Program as a self-sustainable business hoping to reach an even wider range of clients. Going forward, funding will be raised entirely through the Center’s business operations.

Program director Liliya Spinazzola said the new program has the same staffing and that the only major changes are the re-branding and additional services offered. Spinazzola said representatives of the center have been preparing the move toward sustainability for a while now. 

“The Professional Development Center has been [self-sustainable] for the last 20 plus years and we have been very successful doing that, so we are pretty much just re-imagining it,” Spinazzola said. “If you can create a successful business model you can basically reinvent additional programs.”

The program, previously funded by a U.S. Department of Labor grant, provided mandatory safety and health training for Texas miners. But since losing the grant, the center has re-branded its program as the Health and Safety Training Center and has expanded it to provide a wider array of trainings and certifications. Among these new courses are occupational safety and health training, first-aid CPR training, electrical safety and safety certification exam preparation. While the center will continue to work within Texas, it will now offer health and safety courses across the country.

Amanda Sanchez, Health and Safety Training Center Program Coordinator, said she does not view the budget cut as a blow to the program.

“It’s definitely a great opportunity to expand and to serve other industries in Texas and in the U.S.,”
Sanchez said. “By having grant funds we were restricted to just providing mining safety training in Texas. Now we have opportunities to provide not just mining safety training … but also health and safety training in places like schools and hospitals.”

Arturo Munoz, of Vista Sand mining operations, has used the the program and Texas Mine Safety and Health Program to train employees since 1996. Munoz said he has not noticed any differences in the quality of services since the restructuring Tuesday and plans to have his employees undergo training with the center this weekend.

“I’ve used them a couple times since [the restructuring] and it’s always been a prompt response to our trainings,” Munoz said. “There’s nothing but good that’s come out of it.”

For other federally funded programs facing backlash from budget cuts, Sanchez said that a lack of funding does not have to mean the end.

“As long as there is always a vision for the future and looking ahead, you can always prepare,” Sanchez said. “I think that any grants that have been cut, it doesn’t necessarily have to end services [the programs are] doing. There is opportunity for keeping it around and just expanding.”