Sandel: Grant funds provide training for the next generation of engineers

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There is a growing awareness in the Roanoke Valley of the impact that technological innovation has on economic competitiveness and the emerging demand for a skilled workforce. At Virginia Western Community College, we are responding to the need by transforming the scale and scope of engineering technician education and training, particularly as it relates to the regional manufacturing industry.

Re-Engineering Technician Education

Within the Roanoke Region, 10 percent of all jobs are in manufacturing (Virginia Labor Market Index). Roanoke has an above-average concentration of electrical equipment, appliance and component manufacturing as well as motor vehicle manufacturing industries (Virginia Employment Commission). Yet, there is a concerning gap between the skills and knowledge of the region’s current and projected workforce and the demands of manufacturing jobs.

Rapidly evolving technology, especially in automation systems within advanced manufacturing, is creating significant changes to the role of engineers. To develop manufacturing technicians who are adaptable, creative and equipped for success, it is imperative that an investment be made to advance the ability of our educators to provide application-based engineering technologies aligned with the direct needs of industry.

Building Capacity for Our Students

Virginia Western has implemented a sustainable educational infrastructure to enhance the capacity of high school and community college faculty to meet the demand for engineering technicians. In 2012, Virginia Western received a nearly $200,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Advanced Technology Education (ATE) program to build a pathway for students interested in Mechatronics Engineering Technology.  Mechatronics combines mechanical engineering, electronic engineering and software within a foundational context of manufacturing machinery and systems.

Educators from secondary Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, Virginia Western faculty and leaders in the local manufacturing industry, have come together on the NSF project to advance the Mechatronics pipeline. “Five years ago, as I was talking with CTE teachers, I noticed they were each working on their own island,” said Dan Horine, program head of Mechatronics and project director for the NSF award. “The best way to get the best graduates in Mechatronics is to get the best faculty and CTE teachers and work together to share resources for our students.”

Mechatronics faculty worked closely with CTE teachers in the school systems of Roanoke City, Roanoke County, the City of Salem and Botetourt County, to develop 10 project-based learning (PBL) modules to teach knowledge and hands-on skills in applied interdisciplinary engineering technology. Industry tours provided teachers the opportunity to engage in various processes of operations and learn about manufacturing systems utilized at companies such as Dynex America, Spectrum Design and Plastics One.  “Students are overwhelmed with information.  How do they know what is important?” Horine said.  “With this project we can show relevance.  It’s the benefit of taking tours and partnering with industry.”

Strengthening the Network of Partners

Last year, Virginia Western expanded technician training with an additional grant of almost $800,000 from NSF for the Partnership for Advanced Career Education in Mechatronics Engineering (PACE ME). PACE ME teaches students machining skills to support application-based experiences essential to multiple engineering systems. A new Fab Lab provides students with digital fabrication resources as a platform for their own innovation and inventions. Students will learn the design and fabrication processes needed to be successful in industry.

Once this project is complete in 2017, the network of educators and industry partners working to strengthen the engineering technician pathway will include four additional school systems: Bedford County, Botetourt County, Craig and Franklin County; Blue Ridge Community College and Tidewater Community College; as well as five new industry partners, the first to join being American Electric Power.

The NSF PACE ME project is building connections between industry and educational institutions so we can focus on growing the technician pipeline by aligning engineering competencies, skills and knowledge. Joining with business and industry, local schools and economic partners, we are working to sustain and strengthen the skilled talent pipeline for economic vitality in the Roanoke Region.

By Robert H. Sandel, President of Virginia Western Community College

Published in The Roanoke Times on August 9, 2015

Posted on August 11, 2015 in Campus News | Permalink

Virginia Western art professor Thomas to debut new work at California showcase

Alfa Romeo Through the Shasta Daisies by Sue Steele Thomas

Alfa Romeo Through the Shasta Daisies by Sue Steele Thomas

Virginia Western Community College art professor Sue Steele Thomas will debut several new pieces including works featuring famous Italian marques at the Automotive Fine Arts Society (AFAS) exhibit during the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance on August 16 from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The AFAS exhibit has been sponsored by The Lincoln Motor Company for 20 years and will showcase the latest creations of the finest automotive artists in the world in Carmel, California. Thomas is an associate AFAS member.

“I was mentored to be very different in my painting style,” said Thomas. “I love nature and automobiles so I wanted to make something in nature to reflect the mold of the car. I placed the botanicals on top of the car to show my imagination because you wouldn’t see it in reality. I feel like I’ve been successful if my work stops people because it’s different.”

Thomas, who is known for her magnificent use of color and abstract shapes, will feature “Alfa Romeo Through the Shasta Daisies,” a 17.5 inches x 27.5 inches gouache. Thomas uses bright colors to depict the beautiful 1938 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 B Speciale “LeMans” Touring with an imaginative and conceptual botanical overlay. She skillfully layers the red and yellow daisies over the red vehicle to make a unique composition.

Thomas teaches drawing, design, watercolor, illustration and art history. She is also the assistant program head for the art department and program head for the humanities department that includes music, religion and philosophy.

“My advanced watercolor college students were creating inspiring pieces with flowers as their subjects,” said Thomas. “Their work inspired me to use similar greenery in this painting.  The Alfa Romeo and Shasta daisies were created to be equally important. The boldness of the red colors makes for an intense and rich composition.”

Thomas has won awards at many Concours d’Elegance automotive art shows across the country. Her paintings have been exhibited in numerous juried, invitational and illustration exhibits. Thomas’ art will be displayed later this year at the Ault Park Concours d’Elegance on June 12-14 in Ohio and the Keenland Concours d’Elegance on July 16-19 in Kentucky.

Posted on July 9, 2015 in Campus News | Permalink

Financial Aid support now available 24/7

Virginia Western Community College announces that a new financial aid support service is now available around the clock to students. Students can call 1-855-874-6690 or visit mysupport.virginiawestern.edu for assistance with their accounts anytime, day or night.

Students can chat with a team member about their accounts or access the self-help knowledgebase online or on the phone.

Posted on July 1, 2015 in Campus News | Permalink

Services at Virginia Workforce Center to be relocated until further notice following fire

Virginia Western Community College announces that its services that are regularly provided at the Virginia Workforce Center in Crossroads Mall will be relocated because of a fire on Thursday night. Individuals can receive assistance from the college’s career navigators and career coaches at the Goodwill Jobs Campus (2502 Melrose Ave., Suite B, Roanoke, Va.) and on Virginia Western’s main Roanoke campus at G104 in the Thomas Center. This relocation will be in effect from Monday until further notice.

Virginia Western provides assistance for individuals entering the workforce for the first time or returning after a break in employment or layoff. Career navigators and coaches can help individuals determine a strong career and create a plan of action to gain the education and skills they need. For more information about Virginia Western’s Workforce Solutions, visit: www.virginiawestern.edu/workforce.

Open enrollment for Virginia Western’s Fall Semester begins on Monday. Fall classes begin on Aug. 24. For more information on enrolling and to view class schedules, visit www.virginiawestern.edu.

Posted on June 19, 2015 in Campus News | Permalink

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