Guided Particle Systems Inc's Unique Partnership with Pensacola State College Provides Benefits to All

Zach Gravitt, Spring 2022 Intern
When Guided Particle Systems Inc. (GPSI) had their facility severely damaged by Hurricane Sally in September 2020, David Fries, Guided Particle’s CEO, proposed moving the facility to Pensacola State College (PSC) and developing a collaborative relationship with the college. “College campuses have a certain energy not found in industrial parks or traditional office space,” says Mr. Fries, “Partnering with PSC provides access to a diverse range of students, often with prior work experience, who are preparing for their next career stage. In addition to a potential workforce, the company has access to prototyping facilities and opportunities to seek funding for collaborative projects.” The Board of Directors voted unanimously in favor of the novel arrangement and Guided Particle moved into a former chemistry classroom in PSC’s Collegiate High School building in February 2021. In September 2022, the company expanded operations into a second classroom in the same building.

While GPSI occupies space on campus under a lease agreement with Pensacola State College, it is not doing so under a typical incubator or accelerator model. “The college is leasing space to Guided Particle on-campus in an effort to make certain internship opportunities are available to students enrolled in ET programs to allow them to gain first-hand experience and apply knowledge learned in the classroom,” says PSC’s Workforce Director, Michael Listau. The company has operations that take place on campus including research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences, and being housed on the colleges campus makes these opportunities available to students.

Guided Particle has a wide variety of projects it is involved with, from robotics and automation to field-portable environmental sensors. Depending on their experience and interest, students have opportunities for hands-on experience in mechanical design, research, programming, machine learning, 3D printing, IT, field deployment of instrumentation, electronics assembly, technical sales, and more. Per the lease agreement, GPSI commits to employ at least one student intern at all times. All of the student interns to date have been from the college’s Engineering Technology program.

Beyond the lease agreement, an informal relationship has evolved where the company writes letters of support for grant proposals relevant to its business and participates in student events on campus. In addition, the company’s CEO teaches a robotics course at the college and the company hosts an open house for Engineering Technology students during National Engineers Week in February. In August 2022, the company sponsored a group of robotics students to tour the Airbus factory in Mobile, AL with the Alabama chapter of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers.

Both the college and Guided Particle see the collaborative relationship continuing and are in conversations about further expansion. According to Mr. Fries, GPSI is exploring new ways to expand the partnership and create new opportunities for students, workforce development, and the regional economy.

FLATE to Present at the 2022 Engineering Technology Leaders Institute (ETLI)

The Florida Advanced Technological Education (FLATE) Center, a part of the FloridaMakes Network, will present at the 2022 Engineering Technology Leaders Institute (ETLI), hosted by the Engineering Technology Council (ETC) of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE), the international organization for Engineering Education. The 2022 ETLI annual meeting will be held September 28-30, 2022, in Alexandria, VA.

The ETLI is a dedicated annual meeting of stakeholders in engineering technology education. During the meeting, participants from community colleges, companies, professional organizations, and four-year schools promote and discuss high quality engineering technology education to support students, their families, and the companies they will join.

Dr. Marilyn Barger, Senior Education Advisor of FLATE, has been invited to present, along with Dr. Richard Gilbert from the University of South Florida, on Industry Identified Skills Gaps and Education Pipeline Response. Dr. Barger’s and Dr. Gilbert’s session will cover a National Science Foundation funded study on manufacturer identified skills gaps related to Industry 4.0 technology driven applications. The results apply to programs at community colleges and universities. Their presentation will demonstrate the project’s outcomes in Florida and its implementation strategies. Details on the survey and caucus process used as analytics tools will also be provided.

“The manufacturing and manufacturing services sectors have been impacted by the emergence of Industry 4.0 technologies, altering the traditional expectations of new graduates entering the field,” said Dr. Barger. “Technician and engineer preparation programs now need to invest significant effort covering fundamental skills and supportive knowledge of these technologies so that graduates can meet the initial employer expectations in their first job. Educators must be cognizant of the current workplace skills needed in the industry as well as additional skills needed to adapt to new technologies emerging in the next few years.“

According to Dr. Barger’s and Dr. Gilbert’s planned presentation, community college technical programs in Engineering Technology must follow documented regional workforce needs and adapt accordingly. These technician programs zero-in on the necessary skills graduates need to immediately start work in a manufacturing facility. Faculty regularly cross-reference with other programs across the country, utilize Department of Labor competency models, and research skill standards that define national manufacturing credentials to validate and define technical skills to include in their programs.

To register for ETLI, click here.  

For more information, please contact Dr. Marilyn Barger, Senior Education Advisor, Florida Advanced Technological Education Center at