By Wade Browne
There is a new program at Volunteer State Community College offering an AAS in Mechatronics Engineering. What is Mechatronics? According to the Vol State website for this program, “Mechatronics is the blending of engineering fields including mechanical, controls, electronic and computer engineering to automate manufacturing, distribution, and complex services through multiple industries.”
This is only the beginning; having only two branches in operation so far. The Cookeville campus is where the Chairman of this program, Tim Dean, has his office; and the Gallatin Campus Branch is located in the Warf Building in suite 125. The instructor is Patrick Kiely, Assistant Professor of Mechatronics, Math and Science Division. If Professor Kiely’s excitement when describing his work and his interactions with willing minds is any indication of the program’s direction and success; it would seem to be on course.
Matching the intense growth in and around Gallatin is the equally intense rise in the manufacture and movement of goods and services. Words from Professor Kiely reflected that idea when asked about the need for personnel to meet the rising need in this field. He said, “There aren’t enough people going into that field to fill the void.” This void, it seems, was created by the sudden influx of people to Middle Tennessee which could only produce the above stated rise in the need and therefore production and movement of these items. This class is an attempt to efficiently fill that void with quality workers in a learning environment that stresses both the electronic and the mechanical sides of the now largely automated industry. The program is also represented by a Facebook page entitled Mechatronics at Vol State.
On their Facebook page, Mechatronics at Vol State, an individual interested in what goes on in and out of class can find the information they need with the click of a mouse. Here a student, or potential student, can find calendars for notices of the events, class times, field trips, etc. One can also find instructional videos and interesting information regarding the advancement of technology in the field. These extras are provided to the student; who can only benefit when comes time to enter the classroom and actually encounter the different aspects of what can only be described as a syncretism of the many different , though relative, fields involved in the gambit that is mass production.
In the classroom, which is located within the Mechatronics Laboratory; the instruction is formatted similarly to most classrooms. The instructor speaks from the front of the class; and the students, at desks, take notes. Outside in the laboratory; there are robot arms and computers connected to complex equipment. Students move between these stations as the instructor monitors all. Where before a simple training period sufficed to prepare the average worker for the average manufacturing job; today’s hi-tech machinery and the complex systems required to mass produce in ever greater quantities means more intense training and, in many cases, a college degree. This is such a program.
In short, this is a degree that combines the teaching of many combined fields into one block of learning that will give its graduates skills that make them ready for an ever more competitive industry.