Reinforcing Old Connections and Revving up New Ideas for the New Year!

On our last day of work at the college before the winter break, I was lucky to take a “road trip” to visit three new partners. The day started early with a 70 mile drive to Mitsubishi Power Systems’ production and repair facility in Orlando. There we joined a tour sponsored by MACF (Manufacturers Association of Central Florida) for students in the engineering academy at Edgewood High School in Orlando. Desh Bagley, FLATE outreach manager, Dr. Richard Gilbert, co-PI for FLATE, and myself, met Ms. Faith Willingham, a new teacher at Edgewood High School and her pre-engineering students. Sherry Reeves, executive director of MACF also joined the tour.  

Faith brings years of manufacturing engineering experience to her classrooms, and knows how important it is
to get students out to see what engineering and manufacturing work environments look like. The large facility is divided into two sections: repair and new productions. The repair facility is a large and busy operation that conducts repairs and regular maintenance of various blades that are part of the turbines which are primarily used in the electrical utility industry. On the production side, MPS is manufacturing new turbines. The tour groups were led by young engineers who had interned at Mitsubishi.  The company has a large and diverse internship program that serves most of its technical career pathways. Mitsubishi Vice President, Bob Provitola, also serves on FLATE’s National Visiting Committee.

A 60-minute drive northwest followed the tour and found us at Lake Sumter State College (LSSC) in Leesburg. The three campus, 7,500 student regional college wanted to learn more about the engineering
technology degree, and how FLATE could help with the process of documenting a need and/or implementing the degree. Dr. Eugene Jones, associate dean of workforce programs, had gathered a dozen college, school district and community stakeholders for the luncheon meeting. I gave a brief overview of FLATE, the NSF ATE program and the A.S. Engineering Technology degree, and then we got into lively discussions about the local industry base, college, community resources and partnerships as well as possible grants. A new “Advanced Manufacturing Center” at Lake Technical Center could help provide momentum and possible articulations into an A.S. Engineering Technology at LSSC as could pre-engineering programs in the school district. We look forward to working with LSSC and their partners to start a new engineering technology degree in the coming year.

Heading due west, we reached Withlacoochee Technical Institute (WTI, www.wtionline.cc) to visit with Mr. Larry Hensley, instructor and Ms. Karen Barton, teacher’s aide and student, for the Industrial Machinery Maintenance and Repair (IMMR) program that Mr. Hensley started three years ago. WTI provides Post Secondary Adult Vocational training for residents of Citrus County. The new program focuses on skills and certifications required to repair, set up and maintain industrial equipment that could be found in a number of manufacturing related industries. Many of the skillsets taught in the program also support the electrical utility industry.

The two classrooms and two large open bay labs filled with a large variety of industrial equipment and training stations are home to 20 students currently enrolled full-time in the 1,350 hour program. I first met
Mr. Hensely last summer when visiting the IHMC–FLATE Ocala summer robotics camps. He was visiting the camps at IHMC taught by Dr. Cruz to prepare for teaching a similar camp in Citrus County. Supported by the local workforce board, he was excited about the camp, but also about using the LEGO® robots to introduce his IMMR students to programming logic before teaching programmable logic controllers and CNC machining. He believed that that icon-driven programming language would help his students, some of whom had limited exposure to computers and/or programming logic. We will be checking back with Mr. Hensley on how his innovative use of LEGO®  Mindstorms® worked.  Additionally, Mr. Hensley and WTI will be opening an Automation and Production Technology (APT) program that is aligned to the MSSC (Manufacturing Skill Standards Council) Certified Production Technician credential beginning sometime in 2014.

The day was filled with many new faces, new places, and new ideas. The excitement and enthusiasm for manufacturing education was electric at all three locations, and it made me proud that these new partners, stakeholders, and soon to be friends had reached out to FLATE for help, advice and partnership. Welcoming them to the growing FLATE family is a wonderful way to start the New Year.

Also wonderful is our relatively short, but highly informative inaugural issue of the 2014 FLATE Focus. We start this new chapter celebrating the successful launch and kick-off of the BEST robotics program in the greater Tampa Bay area in 2013. We also toot our horns a bit in showcasing ChampionNow.org ongoing, multi-faceted efforts to promote manufacturing excellence on a national arena. The organization has made tremendous strides in that direction and is led by Terry Iverson, one of our current National Visiting Committee members. Spring 2014 is sizzling with science fairs across the region. Be sure to attend and/or support a local team, and read about an award winning student Capstone Project. The sTEm-at-Work puzzles are back in the board to tickle your problem solving skills. These and much more in this edition of the FLATE Focus!

Happy New Year and welcome back!