Cleveland State Community College has announced the area companies it will partner with it for the new Mechatronics Institute at Cleveland State.
Denso Manufacturing, Eaton, McKee Foods, Thomas & Betts and Wacker Polysilicon have all joined the program, which officially launches for students in fall 2018.
Dr. Bill Seymour, president of Cleveland State, announced the first corporate partners Wednesday. He stressed the institute will benefit students and their potential employers alike.
“This program allows us to work with every industry in our area to help meet all our needs,” Seymour said.
The Mechatronics Institute will allow students straight out of high school to gain work experience while still in college. Each student accepted into the program will be hired by a partnering company and work there part time while pursuing an associate’s degree.
Seymour said this will come with many benefits for the students, including eligibility to use financial aid like the Tennessee Promise scholarship while also earning a paycheck from their employers. The college estimates the jobs being offered through the institute will start at $13.80 an hour, with students working two or three days per week.
In addition to those workdays, students will spend two days a week in class toward earning an associate of applied science in mechatronics technology degree. They will end up also graduating with Siemens 1 and 2 mechatronics system certifications — and experience in their field.
Dr. Tim Wilson, advanced technologies department chair at CSCC, explained “mechatronics” refers to the study of various aspects of mechanical equipment which is commonly used in manufacturing. Studies will focus on everything from mechanical and electrical components to digital controls.
Wilson said students will learn how to use, troubleshoot and repair the machinery necessary to keep manufacturing going. Through the Mechatronics Institute, students will get to learn theory and practice at the same time.
Jason Hobbs, human resources business partner for McKee, based in Collegedale, said his company sees participating in the Mechatronics Institute as a viable way to find new workers.
“This is an all-new thing for us,” Hobbs said. “We have a wealth of knowledge and talent among our current workforce, but we see a workforce that is getting ready for retirement. We don’t want all that working knowledge to go away.”
Hobbs said he and the other corporate partners see hiring college students to work with them as a way to help keep their facilities well-staffed. Students would be trained by experienced employees who can pass along their knowledge.
The idea of a college partnering with businesses in this way is not new. Seymour said Jackson State Community College has a similar program. Those living in this area might also be familiar with programs like the Wacker Institute at Chattanooga State Community College. However, Cleveland State has purposely chosen to partner with multiple companies instead of just one.
“We really do believe this is a win-win for all involved,” Seymour said.
Marci Reiter, CSCC’s cooperative education director, described the institute as an “honors program” for interested students. Unlike many of the community college’s other programs, the institute is going to be “selective.” Students will be chosen based on their academic skill, application essays and interviews with college and company leaders, to ensure companies get the best workers.
Reiter said students can begin applying for the institute as soon as this Friday, when a website with more information and an application will be launched. A link to it will be available at http://www.clevelandstatecc.edu. Any current high school seniors wishing to apply to the program for the fall 2018 semester will need to apply by April 1, 2018.
Arlette Robinson, career and technical education director for Bradley County Schools, praised the institute for its student opportunities.
She pointed out local high school students already have the chance to participate in programs which teach them some of the mechatronics skills they would need. Students going into the CSCC program would be getting an education which “directly aligns with” programs offered on the high school level.
“This is going to reinforce these technical skills in ways that can’t be done in the classroom alone,” said Robinson.
Lisa Pickel, director of existing industry programs for the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce, also praised the partnerships between CSCC and the five companies announced Wednesday.
Pickel said some 50,000 new manufacturing jobs have been added in Tennessee since 2010. At the same time, it is anticipated some 75,000 manufacturing workers will retire within the next 10 years.
That means it is becoming more and more important for companies to begin recruiting and training new workers to replace those aging out of the workforce. She added the institute is a promising local effort.
Seymour said the momentum for the institute will likely continue to build between now and its opening classes. Though five companies have signed on, he said there is still room for more company partnerships.