RSCC Mechatronics program expanding

(Bob Fowler, Roane State staff writer) Roane State’s mechatronics program and the community college’s cybersecurity course offerings are expanding to benefit traditional students as well as those in 11 area high schools. 

The college received a $999,950 state grant to underwrite the project, titled “Fast Forward to Success” in its application.

The goal is to boost career opportunities in the fast-growing fields of mechatronics – the engineering of mechanical and electrical systems – as well as robotics and cyber defense.

High school students enrolled in the college’s Middle College and Dual Enrollment programs will benefit from the grant. In Middle College, students take college courses in the mornings and return to their high schools in the afternoons. They can obtain an associate’s degree and a high school diploma at the same time. Dual enrollment students receive college credits while in high school.

A new mechatronics lab has been installed on the college’s Roane County campus. The Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education (GIVE) grant also provided equipment for new dual enrollment opportunities at the Campbell and Morgan County campuses, and at Lenoir City High School.

Evening mechatronics classes on the Roane County campus will be open to traditional students to pursue an associate’s degree (four semesters) or career certificate (two semesters).

“We’re very excited to expand the mechatronics program,” said Gordon Williams, director of the current mechatronics learning center at the college’s Clinton Higher Education and Workforce Training Facility. Students from Roane County’s five high schools will be able to take classes at the college’s Roane County campus.

Williams said he visited Roane County high schools – Midway, Oliver Springs, Rockwood, Harriman and Roane County High – in March before the pandemic closed schools, and some 70 students in all expressed interest in dual enrollment mechatronics.

Launching mechatronics classes on the college’s Roane County campus is “something we’ve wanted to do for several years, and these grant monies will allow us to do that,” said Williams, who will oversee that expansion and new dual enrollment programs at the college’s Campbell and Morgan County campuses.

Starting in the fall, students in each Campbell and Morgan County high school will be able to take mechatronics classes at their local Roane State campus.

Dual enrollment classes in Cyber Defense will be offered at Lenoir City High School, and students can obtain industry-recognized technical certificates after a year of study. Dr. George Meghabghab, director of the college’s Computer Information Technology program, will oversee that expansion.

Meghabghab has called the state grant “a game changer for cybersecurity and computer information technology in general for us at Roane State.” Cybersecurity involves blocking computer hacking attempts and stopping other electronic intrusions.

Preparations for the expanded curriculums are underway. Part of the Learning Center on the flagship Roane County campus has been converted into a lab filled with high-tech equipment, including electrical and mechanical components, hydraulics and pneumatics, programmable logic controllers, and robots.

Williams said the college will also be expanding its dual enrollment offerings in mechatronics at Lenoir City High School. An Early College option will now be available for students to earn a Career Certificate in Mechatronics as well as optional industry certifications while in high school.

The Roane State grant was one of 28 selected for funding out of 61 requests filed under the Governor’s GIVE program. The GIVE effort prioritizes learning opportunities in rural counties, according to an announcement from the governor’s office. Full scholarships are available for students in Roane State’s Middle College program.

The pandemic has created some uncertainty about plans to reopen public schools and colleges, but Roane State intends to offer on-ground and online classes for the fall semester that starts August 19.

Roane State is a two-year college providing transfer programs, career-preparation programs and continuing education. Founded in 1971, the college has locations in Roane, Campbell, Cumberland, Fentress, Knox, Loudon, Morgan, and Scott counties as well as a branch campus in Oak Ridge. For more information, visit www.roanestate.edu.

About Jim Harris

Jim Harris has been WYSH's News & Sports Director since 2000. In addition to reporting local news, he is the play-by-play voice for Clinton High School football, boys' and girls' basketball and baseball. Catch Jim live weekdays beginning at 6:20 am for live local news, sports, weather and traffic plus the Community Bulletin Board, shenanigans with Ron Meredith and more on the Country Club Morning Show on WYSH & WQLA. Jim lives in Clinton with his wife Kelly and daughter Carolina, his mother-in-law and cats Lucius and Oliver.

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