Advancing Mechatronics Technician Education
The manufacturing industry in the United States has an increasing need for well-qualified workers. In the western region of Pennsylvania, there are growing needs for skilled technicians in advanced manufacturing and energy companies. To help address this situation, the Community College of Allegheny County will work with industry partners and community organizations to develop courses in new technology areas and expand the college's associate degree program in mechatronics (a blend of mechanical, electrical, and computerized technologies). These new courses will address areas such as robotics, plastics technology, and process technology. Faculty will also be able to obtain certifications in these new areas. This expansion of the program into areas of industrial growth will serve as a model for the benefits of integrating industry certification with academic coursework. The mechatronics program will be designed to offer a variety of options that allow more students to participate and obtain degrees. The project team will also work with secondary school teachers to increase the interest of high school students in career pathways in advanced manufacturing fields. The project will help increase the number of technicians with skills needed for the workforce in the western Pennsylvania region and the nation.
Three goals will guide the project. First, to expand the existing mechatronics degree program to include specialization courses in Robotics, Plastics and Process Technology, and Green Manufacturing. Second, to provide professional development and certifications for faculty in these new technology areas. Three, to develop strategies to increase the exposure and retention along career pathways for secondary school and community college students. The new courses will cover concepts and skills based on industry-relevant topics such as programming portable and customizable robots, injection molding, plastic material selection, instrumentation and operations, quality control, and equipment troubleshooting. These courses will have an overarching theme of green manufacturing. The new curriculum will incorporate capstone projects that include project-based learning activities and student internships. The mechatronics program will also be enhanced to provide flexible evening and weekend scheduling as well as self-paced, online courses to facilitate more participation from a diverse population of students and students in rural areas. Mechatronics faculty at the college will use transportable trainers to provide hands-on guest lectures for secondary school students to showcase career pathways or instruct course modules at high schools. The college will also host Mechatronics Problem Solving Competitions for secondary school students to encourage their engagement in, and awareness of, technician pathways for advanced manufacturing fields. The curriculum materials and project results will be shared regionally and nationally.