FLATE Visits Virginia Mechatronics and Advanced Manufacturing Programs




ON THE ROAD

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.