FLATE Visits Virginia Mechatronics and Advanced Manufacturing Programs


This month FLATE had the opportunity to visit two two-year advanced manufacturing and mechatronics programs in Virginia:  Piedmont Virginia Community College (PVCC) in Charlottesville and Virginia Western Community College in Roanoke (VWCC).  PVCC was hosting an outreach event for high school programs to introduce the students to their new program launched this academic year. Over one hundred twenty juniors and seniors from 4 regional high schools arrived at the college for a 10 am program start. After welcome from the program director and dean, a lively panel of local manufacturing and production employers talked to the young people about their companies and what they make.  They went on to talk about the kinds of skills new employees need to have to be hire and successful in their companies.  The business sectors represented all voiced the need for some common fundamental technical skills like measurements, electronics and quality. They also strongly endorsed the need for personal success skills (employability skills, soft skills, personal skills, etc). After the lively discussions and questions from the audience, the students cycled through four stops: manufacturing lab tour and program information; company displays where they showcased their products and individually talked about their technician workforce needs. Several high school and college engineering student projects were also on display.  The last two stops were hands on activities building a small ball bearing system and wiring a LED light circuit. It was a great opportunity to get ideas for effective outreach and benchmark the labs of our Florida Engineering Technology programs, and hear about the workforce needs of manufacturing companies in other states and regions.
My second visit was to Virginia Western Community College (VWCC) located in Roanoke, VA.  The mechatronics degree at VWCC was started by and still let by program manager Dan Horine about ten years ago.  The program has grown to well over 100 students and has   attracted a number of manufacturers to the region. After visiting the mechatronics, computer aided drafting and “Fab” lab, I was lucky to observe the following required mechatronics systems course: ENG 105 – Problem Solving in Engineering Technology:

“Teaches engineering problem solving, using hand held calculator. Applies computers to solving problems. Laboratory 3 hours per week”

This innovative strategy is helping to secure specific math skills needed by mechatronics technicians by providing relevant context to the math skills being taught. The course basically provides a faculty “tutor” for students currently taking math, engineering and mechatronics courses.  Personally, I was struck by the non-threatening and team environment and overall “helping” atmosphere. The required course has only been offered a couple of years so its impact on mechatronic student success has yet to be determine.
You can find out more by visiting the colleges’ websites: www.virginiawestern.edu and www.pvcc.edu.  Additional questions about mechatronics programs in the US or the Engineering Technology A.S. degree in Florida, visit the Mechatronics Community Exchange site or contact Dr. Barger at barger@fl-ate.org.

Did you know?

FRESHMEN AND STEM: The Indicators reports: "In 2016 about 45% of freshmen indicated they planned to major in an S&E field (up from about 8% in 2000); about 16% in the biological and agricultural sciences; 11% in engineering; 10% in the social and behavioral sciences; 6% in mathematics, statistics, or computer sciences; and 3% in the physical sciences."
Other Highlights: "Between 2012 and 2015, the number of S&E associate’s degrees continued to increase despite a decline in the number of associate’s degrees awarded in computer sciences."
"The number of associate’s degrees in S&E technologies, not included in S&E degree totals because of their applied focus, grew by 72% since 2000. In 2015, about 144,000 associate’s degrees were awarded in S&E technologies, down from 166,000 in 2012. The proportion of associate’s degrees in engineering technologies . . . has declined from 48% of all S&E technologies degrees in 2000 to 24% in 2015 (or from 7% of all associate’s degrees to 3%), whereas the proportion of associate’s degrees in health technologies has increased from 50% in 2000 to 73% in 2013 (or from 7% of all associate’s degrees to 10%)."

Source: National Science Board, 2018 S&E Indicators Digest:​ "Despite accounting for one-half of the college-educated workforce, women in 2015 accounted for less than one-third of S&E employment. Although the number of women in S&E jobs has risen significantly in the past 2 decades (from 755,000 in 1993 to 1,818,000 in 2015), the disparity has narrowed only modestly. Similarly, underrepresented minorities—blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians or Alaska Natives—have made substantial strides in S&E employment, increasing from 217,000 S&E workers in 1993 to 705,000 in 2015. However, their representation in S&E jobs (11%) remains below their share of the population (27%)."

Puzzles on Hiatus in Hyannis Port

The  sTEm-at Work Puzzle series is on hiatus.  It is likely the series will return.  However, as its slips out the door heading toward Hyannis Port, today's FLATE FOCUS has a reminder of what the puzzles are trying to do.

The puzzles presented in the sTEm-at Work Puzzle series provided tools for that task.  The puzzles are cast within situations a technician might become involved with and at the level that the technician is expected to handle.  The visually striking qualities of these puzzles is there lack of specific values for the scalars represented as independent and dependent variables.  In addition, the plots presented (line, sinusoids, and exponentials) represent common waveforms that a technician is likely to encounter.    The intent here is to provide instructional avenues to the various measurement systems that are used to quantize the situation described by the scalars in the plot.

The lack of specifics also directs the students to the plots intended message.  This provides instructional avenues for proper interpretation the graphic data as relative to magnitudes for variables in context with the "story" that the graphic is presenting.  It also directs student attention to the plot's boundary conditions expectation.  This knowledge helps students understand the intended range of data that quantizes the situation.

   Finally, the puzzles present students with a situation where they must reach a definitive (yes/no) conclusion.  A task that is hard to master since it also requires the continuous development of the student's proper self assessment of their knowledge and skills and then the confidence to make a public declaration of their conclusions. Success with these skills, in turn, develops the student use of data as part of their trouble shooting toolbox with the confidence that they will be able to move through the problem's symptoms, compare that data with the acceptable range of data, and then fix the problem.       

Despite the ever presence of flashy visual data in our 21st century world, few people critically review data in any format.  It is very important for technical educators to provide students with opportunities to practice and develop their own strategies for analyzing visual information.  Data presented in infographics typically showcase data bytes that an author wants the audience to see from a single point of view.  This snapshot brevity of infographics is admirable however, the practice hides data that is often needed to think creatively, troubleshoot, and solve problems.  Educators should use exercises like the STEM-at-Work puzzles because our instructional practices typically do not always deal with challenging information and critical interpretations.  A successful technician in any field must be able to critically read, interpret, and trouble shoot a problem using scalar data quickly and effectively.  And so, like Arnie, we'll be back!

Atlantic Tech ROAD TRIP


Last month, Kevin Finan and eight of his machining program seniors form Atlantic Technical College in Broward County took a road trip to USF College of Engineering and the Haas Outlet in Tampa.  Kevin is a firm believer that providing students exposure to various opportunities for his students after graduation is very important.  First hand exposure to various programs and levels of post-secondary education and various workplace settings is extremely helpful for young people when they are trying to identify what they want to do and where they might fit into the future.  Often students know right way after making a visit to a company, college or university that that is a place they want work or, equally important, that it’s NOT a place can see themselves in the future.  The students had a great time, asked a lot of good questions at both “stops” on their “road trip”.  At the Haas Outlet, they of course learned about the latest CNC technologies and about careers in machining.  At USF, they visited several labs including electrical engineering, industrial manufacturing lab, the nanotechnology research and technology center and the student innovation lab space.  They also heard about the engineering college programs from Eva Fernandez and mechanical engineering students and explored the student projects in the innovation lab.  There might be no better way to engage and encourage seniors to start seriously exploring options than field trips.  FLATE would like to thank all their USF partners for supporting the tour request and helping to provide a rich experience for the Atlantic Tech students.  A big shout out to Eva Fernandez, Rob Tufts, Dr. Susana Lai Yuen and the Electrical engineering team for taking time to share their engineering passions with these students.

BREAKING NEWS!:  The Atlantic Tech (ATC) SkillsUSA Machining team just won the regional competition and will be heading  to the state competition at the end of April. Congratulations to the students from ATC and best of luck in the state competition!

FLATE & St. John State Join efforts to Recruit & Retain Women in STEM Careers Pathways

FLATE & St. John State Join efforts to Recruit & Retain Women in STEM Careers Pathways

All across the board educators, advisors, counselors and industry leaders are increasingly voicing a real and ever-present challenge of recruiting and retaining women in STEM careers. To address some of these concerns, and to start a platform for an open dialogue, FLATE—NSF Center of Excellence in Advanced Technological Education presented a workshop hosted by St. John River State College (SJRSC), Orange Park Campus in Orange Park, FL.  The professional development workshop, “Recruiting Girls for STEM Pathways”, featured best practices for educators, recruiters, counselors, advisors, and anyone interested in promoting STEM careers to women and girls.

Participants who attended the workshop had the opportunity to interact with a panel of two STEM female experts and one female STEM student, explored STEM based resources, shared current female recruitment practices and engaged in teamwork to develop strategic action plans.  The action plans included both short and long-term goals to recruit and retain female STEM programs.

Based on a post survey conducted by FLATE, over 95% of participants who responded the survey (22 out of 25) rated good and/or excellent their satisfaction with the overall professional development value provided during the “Women in STEM-Career Pathways Recruitment and Retention workshop”.  The same percentage of responses indicated that they are planning to use the information presented, will recommend this type of workshop to other colleagues, and agreed and/or strongly agreed that the workshop is an effective way to promote the importance of women in STEM career pathways recruitment and retention. Nearly 90% of people surveyed also agreed and/or strongly agreed that the STEM professional panel was engaging and provided important advice regarding female recruitment and retention. Approximately 95% of responses also agreed and/or strongly agreed the Round Robin and group session provided a big picture of current practices and potential action plan to improve the recruitment and retention of females in their programs.
Comments from Participants:
“Having these discussions and listening to different viewpoints and perspectives will help in everyday decision-making process in our role as educators and advisors”
“I love the panel and the brainstorming. This was wonderful; I learned a lot”
“Great platform to share ideas, planning, and experience”

For more details about the workshop including the presentations, please visit FLATE’s wiki presentation page, or contact Marilyn Barger at barger@fl-ate.org  For additional information related resources visit www.fl-ate.org and www.madeinflorida.org.

Manufacturing Excellence in Florida (part 2)

In the last FLATE FOCUS we started the conversation about Florida achieving manufacturing excellence. FLATE's part of that quest is the connection between quality and excellence expectations on the manufacturing floor and the workforce that provides the mechanism to achieve those expectations. The hard part of technical workforce development is reflected in the reality that the manufacturers alone cannot create the workforce that optimally complements the advanced technologies these manufacturers are simultaneously inserting into their manufacturing environments. To be sure, manufacturers do get great initial technical support from their equipment suppliers but those efforts are focused on installation and startup. Long term integration of new technologies into the main stream of a specific company’s manufacturing process and the accompanying protocols in a specific facility still remains squarely within the manufacturer's domain. Thus, a Florida based manufacturing workforce talent pool must have candidates that demonstrate a depth and breadth of knowledge and skills defined by the demands of various advanced manufacturing equipment technologies.

FloridaMakes, the United State Department of Commerce Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) Center for Florida, and FLATE, a National Science Foundation Advanced Technological Education Center for Manufacturing (NSF-ATE) in Florida, have entered into a partnership with the long-term goal to develop a world-class technical workforce that will be the backbone for Florida manufacturing.  This union allows the blending of focused resources and expertise to accomplish this mission. It also allows manufacturers to take advantage of the value-added both of these Centers possess.  Ultimately, FloridaMakes, as a member of the MEP National Network, and FLATE, as an NSF Advanced Technological Education Center of Excellence, now have access to combined MEP and ATE national knowledge, current recommended practices, and expertise that will address the challenges generated by Florida's need to have a highly talented manufacturing workforce pool.

 At this point, four target mechanisms have been identified as key elements in creating this talent resource for manufacturers;

·       Work-based Learning
·       Internship & Apprenticeships
·       Skill Certification
·       Talent Pipeline Development.

Although these elements are foundation pillars for talent pool development, they are not addressed within a unified education strategy. Work-based learning and internship and apprenticeships, are viewed as standalone components for workforce training. The overall talent pipeline development does reside within the K-16 academic structure but it has, at best, a dim focus on manufacturing workforce career options. This MEP-ATE partnership in Florida is unique in the nation and it will result in a dramatic difference in the way these four workforce development elements are addressed in Florida.

This brings this FLATE FOCUS article full circle. The hard part of technical workforce development is reflected in the reality that manufacturers alone cannot create the workforce with the additional fact that the workforce pool needed cannot be created without manufacturers’ involvement. Fortunately for Florida, there are proactive Regional Manufacturing Associations (RMA) that are involved in workforce education and training. Please contact your RMA and join in their efforts.  For specific contact information about your RMA, either Richard Gilbert, gilbert@usf.edu or Lake Ray lake@fcmaweb.com from FLATE and the First Coast Manufacturing Association, respectively, will help you get connected. As FLATE FOCUS continues with this Manufacturing Excellence in Florida theme, we will elaborate on the components statekholders have that can directly contribute to creating a world class manufacturing workforce in Florida. The March FOCUS will address how this new FLATE and FloridaMakes partnership will make a major difference in the approach to manufacturing workforce development and manufacturing excellence in Florida.

For more information about FloridaMakes, visit their website.  If you have questions about this article, please contact Dr. Richard Gilbert at gilbert@usf.edu

Needed Math for Entry-Level Technicians

What is Needed Math (for entry-level technicians)?

A common barrier for post-secondary technical education programs is the mathematics skills and knowledge of entering students. Related issues that must be triangulated with incoming students’ math levels are (1) college degree mathematics requirements; (2) specific math needed to support the technical program content; (3) the content and length of the courses in which the needed math is typically covered; and (4) restrictions on the length of the degree or certificate program.

Over the holiday weekend last month, approximately 60 secondary and post-secondary educators, industry representatives and mathematics education experts convened in Baltimore for an intense three days defining the issues, specific math skills and knowledge, what is needed for student success.  This gathering was coordinated by a National Science Foundation Advanced Technological Education (NSF ATE) funded conference grant (DUE #1737946) award to Hofstra University. The goal of the project is to define the current needed mathematics for technician education programs in three advanced technology domains: Advanced Manufacturing, Biotechnology and Information Technology. A steering committee with education and industry representatives met to define and invite appropriate attendees, the overarching needs, the working sessions and group goals and objectives and overall conference agenda.  FLATE is representing the Advanced Manufacturing domain for education on this committee. 

During the conference, participants worked in domain groups (industry sectors); affinity groups (educators, industry representative, mathematics education experts); and whole group activities.  The conference also heard from an industry panel about their company and sector technician talent needs and what they predict their future needs will be. The external evaluator, research associate and technical writer also participated in the full conference and steering committee to help keep the group focused on the goals and objectives and to observe and participate in the various working groups. 

Both the individual energy and enthusiasm for the work being done was honest, sincere and pervasive. Industry representatives were very engaged and made special note that they were happy to be included to share their personal and industry sector technician education needs. They were also very interested in learning more about the formalities of the education system with respect to defined courses and course content, degrees and degree structure, and the hierarchies of content.

The conference project leadership and steering committee are working through the 50+ flip chart pages; sample problem templates, participant feedback and afterthoughts, notes and recordings So what were some of the first “take-aways” from the conference? Here are few!
·     Math is still a barrier for some students but it can be overcome
·     We think we know what math is needed for entry level technicians in the 3 disciplines
·     We are not sure how and where to teach this needed math within the educational system
·     Technical program faculty are very willing to teach needed math in context
·     Partnerships between math and technician educators and industry should be encouraged
·     It’s unclear that technicians need any “whole courses” beyond college algebra
·     Industry is very interested in workforce education and participating in this conversation
·     Workplace applications of basic math are complex and consequential
·     Gaps between what is taught and what is needed should be defined

Answers to some of these questions could cause technician educators to change what and how they teach and impact the formalized mathematics education courses and frameworks.  All of this is important to our Florida Engineering Technology degree as well as other technician education programs in our state.  There is certainly a balance of educating technicians so they are “ready to work”, the time investment of the education process, the level of theory and background needed for straight forward mathematics operations that are well defined and used repeatedly.  The steering committee is continuing its work to compile the information gathered and propose recommendations and possible strategies.  A white paper/conference proceedings document will be published and will be available in early June.  For more information about the project, participants, resources and workshop, please visit the Needed Math website: www.neededmath.org or contact Dr. Marilyn Barger (barger@fl-ate.org) .