Archive for March, 2010

ATETV Episode 28: Careers That Give Back

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

This week, we look at two innovative technical programs that are preparing students to make important contributions — to the health of their communities and to the health of the population.

In our first segment, we meet D-Jay Laffoon, a student at Cape Cod Community College’s environmental sciences program. D-Jay is currently enrolled in the program’s instrumentation class, which is keeping him outside collecting water samples for analysis.

“I think environmental technology is definitely a career with a future,” says D-Jay. “A lot of people are trying to be less fossil-fuel reliant, and I think renewable energy is the only way to go forward.” The college’s supportive environment, which includes free tutoring in math and other challenging subjects, is providing D-Jay with the confidence that he will come away from the program with a great future.

“In five years, I see myself in a nice [reliable] career instead of jumping from job to job. It’s a good experience and I’m having a real good time.”

In our second segment, students enrolled in the biomanufacturing program at Great Bay Community College are similarly excited — and appreciated. Through apprenticeships, also known as paid internships, at biopharmaceutical companies, these students are gaining the experience and confidence that comes with mastering complex scientific skills that will help lead to the development of life-saving drugs and medical products.

“Biotechnology is maturing all over the nation, as well as the globe, and that’s where lots of technician jobs are now being created,” explains Sonia Wallman, PhD, of the Northeast Biomanufacturing Center and Collaborative. “The bioeconomy means that you’re able to use [genetically modified] cells to act as factories for your product.” The students at Great Bay are learning the scientific underpinnings that will turn proteins into marketable drugs. “They are learning to do the jobs that are found in a biomanufacturing facility, particularly in production and quality control,” adds Dr. Wallman.

The cutting-edge nature of the industry, coupled with the college’s apprenticeship program, is particularly energizing and inspiring. “[Our students] feel very powerful,” says Dr. Wallman. “They are doing stuff that no one else their age is able to do and it makes them feel really just like sports heroes. They’re appreciated for their knowledge.”

Rewarding careers in interesting fields are the end result of these and other ATE programs — there’s plenty of reasons for students to feel good about their futures.

Lasers Celebrate Their 50th Birthday

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010
Green 532nm 10mW refracted from a 5 carat diamond.-  © Photograph by Marco Nero

Green 532nm 10mW refracted from a 5 carat diamond.- © Photograph by Marco Nero

Lasers Turn 50 and the Celebration Lasts All Year!

There’s no question that laser technology is important to industry and to our workforce. Lasers are widely used throughout medicine and surgery. Lasers are integral to our telecommunications infrastructure. Lasers are helping to create the jobs of the future.

But, let’s face it: Lasers are also fun. As Laser and Photonics Engineering student Todd Devine confessed, “I’ve always liked lasers, ever since I was little.”

If you, too, have always been intrigued by the power and precision of these multi-colored light beams, you’ll want to check out LaserFest, the year-long celebration of the 50th anniversary of the laser. As their website announces, “From DVD players to eye surgery, the laser is one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century — one that has revolutionized the way we live.”

Think you know all about lasers? Take this quick quiz:

Question: What does “laser” stand for?
Answer: Light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation

Question: When did lasers first become part of our “everyday” lives?
Answer: In 1974, when the bar code was first used in retail stores

Question: What is the estimated dollar value of lasers to our economy?
Answer: The devices and services that rely on lasers are thought to play a role in more than $3 trillion worth of commerce annually.

And a multiple choice question:
Lasers have recently been used to a) Clean several famous works of art; b) Shoot down mosquitoes in mid-flight; c) Identify a bank robber and analyze rocks on Mars; d) All of the above.

Answer: d) All of the above.

In fact, the reason that lasers are so valuable to our lives isn’t just because of their power. A real selling point of laser technology is the fact that the photons in light beams move with extreme focus and precision, making lasers ideal for sending messages over long distances or for accurately reading the messages contained in DVDs, bar codes, or even biological cells.

So, the next time you pop a copy of “Star Wars” in your DVD player consider this: Without lasers, you wouldn’t be watching that DVD. And without his laser beam, Darth Vader would be powerless.

ATETV Episode 27: The Numbers Add Up

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

This week we begin by exploring Lasers and Photonics Technologies and Wind Energy technology, and end by focusing on the ways that community colleges are providing students with the core math skills they’ll need to succeed in both of these fields –as well as every other area of technology.

In our first segment, we meet Central Carolina Community College student Todd Devine, who is enrolled in the college’s Laser and Photonics Engineering program. “I have always liked lasers, and ever since I was little I was tinkering with things, and it’s just grown from there.” This lifelong interest is now evolving into a promising career path, with laser technology being used in fields as diverse as surgical procedures and music and video technology.

“Every day there is a new application coming out for lasers, so it’s creating a lot of jobs,” notes Central Carolina’s Gary Beasley. “And guess what? There are not enough technicians to support those applications in the medical field or in telecommunications.” But Central Carolina’s program aims to change that, and Todd Devine is proof positive.

“When I graduate, I think I am going to look toward the medical fields that are dealing with lasers, and help mankind in some way,” says Todd. “I want to do something useful for the world.”

Similarly, as we see in our second segment, the students in the Wind Energy program at Wyoming’s Laramie County Community College are also looking at their technology curriculum as important not just for their careers, but also for our environment and our society.

“When my students come to class, people aren’t sleeping,” says Laramie’s Michael Schmidt. “They are very focused on what they are learning. These people are excited.”

The Wind Energy program is designed to prepare technicians to go into the wind industry to repair utility skill wind turbines, large commercial machines with complex control systems that allow them to produce energy efficiently and to maximize capability. The highly skilled students who emerge from the program are versed in all aspects of wind energy technology, from introduction to wind power, to electricity, hydraulics, and all of the basic core skills needed to excel in the field.

And essential to students’ success is a firm foundation in mathematics. “Math and science are very critical,” adds Michael Schmidt. “Mathematics, specifically, apply to the technical part of the program. Our technicians have to have an understanding of how power is produced. They have to have an understanding of power quality because this power is ultimately delivered to a utility, ends up on a grid and is then delivered to the consumer.”

Which brings us to our third segment, which shows us why community colleges are great places for students to get up to speed in algebra, calculus and other core math skills.

“All technology goes back to math,” notes Scott Edwards of Juniper Networks. “The more you know about math, the better you understand it, and the more clear will be the complex topics that you are going to learn in the future.”

And community college programs provide the support and guidance to enable students to tackle the challenges of higher level mathematics. As Laser and Photonics student Todd Devine tells prospective students, “If you are struggling with math in high school right now, [you should know] that if you just study hard and work through it, it will all pay off.”

Adds Andrew Maynard of the Springfield Technical Community College faculty, “The nice thing about community colleges is that if you are not up to speed in math — whether because you’ve been out of school for awhile or because you had trouble with math in high school — we offer remedial classes to help bring you up to the college level, so you don’t fail.”

And, as this week’s episode shows, success in math translates to success in any technology career.

March 20th is National Agriculture Day!

Friday, March 19th, 2010
National Ag Day

National Ag Day

It’s been a long winter and for many of us, that’s meant snow and ice, and days that are too short and too dark.

But this week, we not only turned the clocks ahead for Daylight Savings Time, but we also celebrate the first day of spring this coming Saturday, March 20. And in the agricultural industry, the first day of spring is AgDay, a national event created by the Agriculture Council of America (ACA) as part of National Agriculture Week. First introduced in 1973, Ag Day and National Agriculture Week were created to focus on the vitally important role that farming and agriculture play to our lives, including our health, our environment and our economy.

Consider:

*More than 22 million people in the U.S. are employed in farm or farm-related jobs, including production agriculture, farm inputs, processing and marketing and wholesale and retail sales.

*Forty-one percent of total U.S. land — 938.28 million acres — is farmland, and the average farm covers 441 acres, compared with 147 acres in 1900.

*U.S. farmers produce 46 percent of the world’s soybeans, 41 percent of the world’s corn, 20.5 percent of the world’s cotton and 13 percent of the world’s wheat.

Those are some impressive numbers!

But equally as impressive are the many ways that today’s farming techniques are keeping pace with our country’s changing needs and tastes, resulting in healthier crops and meat products and increased efficiencies and cost effectiveness. According to the ACA, the new technique known as “precision farming” boosts crop yields and reduces waste by using satellite maps and computers to match seed, fertilizer and crop protection applications to local soil conditions. At the same time, biotechnology advances are yielding tastier fruits and vegetables that stay fresher longer and are less vulnerable to damage by insects.

That’s great news for all of us as we work to maintain more nutritious diets. Today’s population, for example, eats a whopping 900 percent more broccoli than we did just 20 years ago! We also consume about 30 pounds of lettuce per person per year — five times more than our ancestors ate in the 1900s. And blueberries — another of the plant family’s nutritional powerhouses — have also gained tremendously in popularity, with over 200 million pounds grown in North America each year.

In addition to keeping us healthy, today’s farmers are safeguarding the health of our environment . Reduced tillage practices on more than 72 million acres help prevent erosion, and maintenance of more than 1.3 million acres of grass waterways allows water to flow naturally from crops without eroding soil. And, just as the households of America now routinely recycle glass, newspaper and aluminum, the farms of America continue their age-old recycling practice of applying manure to fields replace nutrients in the soil.

There’s no question that the farming industry has made the most of new technologies — expanding, adapting, and ultimately, improving the agricultural products that reach America’s homes. Today’s farmers work nearly three-and-one-half times more land than their predecessors from 1900, and each American farmer produces enough to feed 144 people — a dramatic increase from 25 people in the 1960s!

“There is an on-going consolidation in agriculture that results in fewer farmers farming more acres,” says Doug DeVries, Sr. Vice President Agricultural Marketing for North America, Australia and Asia at John Deere in Moline, Ill. “Their needs for equipment are changing. Their expectations for what the equipment will do for their farming operation are also changing.” The field of agriculture as a whole just continues to evolve.

So, on National Agriculture Day: this Saturday, March 20th, as well as the next time you help yourself to a serving of broccoli or toss a handful of blueberries on top of your cereal, consider where they came from — each farmer in America today is responsible for feeding you — and 143 others like you!

ATETV Episode 26: Growing a Competitive Workforce

Monday, March 15th, 2010

This week, we learn about an agriculture curriculum and an Advanced Technological Education (ATE) Center of Excellence that are helping to promote growth — literally and figuratively!

In our first segment, we meet Dan Miller, a student in the GPS and GIS program at Kirkwood Community College who is studying to be a “cutting-edge” farmer.

“I grew up on a farm with my father, and that’s what started my interest in the field of agriculture,” says Dan. And, through Kirkwood’s GPS/GIS program, Dan is preparing to work in in the emerging geospatial technology industry. As one of only a handful of precision agriculture programs in the nation, Kirkwood’s curriculum provides students with courses in computers, GPS (Global Positioning Systems), ArcView and data collection, in addition to agronomy and agriculture economics.

GPS technology has complemented Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for a number of years. “GPS is used in a lot of tractors, but also has a lot of other applications,” notes Dan. “There’s an infinite amount of options to use in the field of agriculture right now. This program has opened my eyes to all of the programs that are available to use in our family farm operation or to help me create my own business.”

Even if Dan decides not to pursue a career in farming, the skills he’s gaining through this program can translate into numerous other careers, including construction, natural resources or other agricultural careers. But for now, Dan says, “Once I graduate my passion is to go back home and farm with my Dad. That’s what I’ve always enjoyed and that’s what I really want to do.”

In our second segment, we visit the South Carolina ATE Center of Excellence at Florence-Darlington Technical College, which has developed proven models and successful practices to improve education — and ensure a competitive, technologically savvy workforce for the future.

“We have worked one-on-one with a number of educators and other organizations around the country to develop practices and strategies that we know will increase the quantity, quality and diversity of engineering technicians and support economic development,” explains Elaine Craft. And she adds, all of today’s education research is pointing to the value of hands-on, inquiry-based learning.

“Without a hands-on experience that puts things in context and forces students to grapple a bit, the information doesn’t stick and students don’t know how to use the information the next time they encounter it,” she notes. At Florence-Darlington, a series of changes that were initially implemented to meet the learning styles of a particular group of students,are now being used to make learning more meaningful for all students.

“We entirely changed the way we approach the first year of study, integrating mathematics, physics, technology and communications,” adds Elaine. “We also have an internship program, so we can now provide students with opportunities to work while they’re enrolled in school.” Known as a “Grow-Your-Own” approach, the internship enables students to “grow up” with an industry during their two years of school, ultimately producing a good match between the graduate and the job.

The South Carolina Advanced Technological Education Center (SC ATE) is now working with community colleges and industry partners on improving Engineering Technology programs at two-year colleges not only in South Carolina, but across the country. As this week’s episode demonstrates, today’s technology students can grow and thrive in many different ways!

Small is the New Big Idea

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

Fuel Cell Technology: Small is the New Big Idea

Imagine a fuel source that can run on natural gas and propane — or soybean oil and used cooking oil. Or even farm waste.

Well, it’s not just an imaginary scenario, it’s a real and thriving industry known as fuel cell technology, and it’s being used today to create locally generated electricity in rural farm areas, military battle zones and other hard-to-reach places beyond the range of the standard electrical grid.

The subject of a recent report on the CBS News program, “60 Minutes,” the promise of fuel cell technology lies in its ability to generate the equivalent of a “power plant in a box,” replacing massive power plants and the transmission line grid in the same way that laptop computers have partially replaced desktop computers or the way cell phones have replaced many land-line phones.

A fuel cell is a two-inch disk made of ceramic that converts fuel into electricity and heat using an electrochemical process many times cleaner, quieter and less polluting than engines and turbines. Because a single fuel cell generates about 0.7 volts of electricity, hundreds of fuel cells are combined in a “stack” to generate enough energy to power a motor.

Fuel cell systems decrease our carbon footprints and provide important alternative energy options. By generating electricity through an electrochemical reaction, rather than from a combustion process as would occur in an automobile engine, there’s no need for burning or combustion and no need for power lines from an outside source. Compared to a battery, which uses an electrochemical reaction to produce a finite amount of energy, fuel cells produce electricity continuously as long as they are provided fuel — whether it be diesel, kerosene or vegetable oil. (For an interactive explanation of how fuel cells work, visit the General Motors Education website.)

Technology Management, Inc. (TMI) has been developing fuel cells for the past two decades, and according to their website, fuel cells provide a unique source of power generation for several important reasons: 1) They are modular. Unlike solar, wind, diesel or natural-gas generators, fuel cells are compact in size and can be placed anywhere there is a fuel supply. 2) They are clean. Compared to generators, which produce noise, odor and air pollution — including lethal carbon monoxide — fuel cells are clean, quiet and safe for indoor use. 3) They are efficient. Fuel cells are at least twice as efficient as a gas engine or turbine at producing electricity. In addition, fuel cells produce clean heat which can be used for cooling as well as heating. 4) They are scalable. Fuel cells are modular which means that each individual system enjoys the same high efficiency regardless of size and can be used as “energy building blocks.” You simply add more to get more power, demonstrating that bigger is not always better.

Today, in partnership with Stark State College and Lockheed Martin, TMI is developing a fuel cell military application that promises to greatly reduce the need for a front-line unit to transport and secure large quantities of gasoline or diesel fuel on the battlefield. Delivering this fuel is expensive and dangerous, but by reducing the need for petroleum at outlying military installations, the long truck convoys required to deliver fuel (which are especially vulnerable to enemy attack) can be reduced, saving costs as well as safeguarding soldiers’ lives.

TMI is also developing a small-scale fuel-cell-driven power system that could be placed on thousands of small farms in rural America or tens of thousands of rural villages in the third world to bring power to customers in remote locales. As TMI CEO Benson Lee puts it, “Small is the new big idea.”

To hear a presentation by Benson Lee about the role of fuel cell technology in today’s marketplace, including its role in solving global social problems, click here.

ATETV Episode 25: Technology and Real-Life Applications

Monday, March 8th, 2010

This week, we look at ways that community colleges are working hand-in-hand with industry to create curriculum that will enable students to “hit the ground running” upon graduation.

In our first segment, we visit Stark State College, where a two-year associate’s degree in fuel cell technology incorporates mathematics, chemisty and physics, as well as specialized fuel cell curriculum, as part of an overall mechnical engineering program.

“We are very tight with business, so we listen very closely to their needs,” explains Stark State’s Dennis Trenger. “Our curriculum provides as broad of a picture as we can paint right now, because this field is constantly changing.”

In addition to the two-year degree program, Stark State also offers students the option of a one-year certificate program in fuel cell technology. “Perhaps students have already been out in the field and have some mechanical engineering skills or even electrical engineering skills,” says Dennis. “With this certificate program they could come back and take our fuel cell courses to actually move them in a little different direction in their careers.”

For student Dena Mayhorn, the certificate program is proving to be exactly the right fit for her needs after 20 years of employment with Acura. “I feel that fuel cell technology is going to be used in many areas, including the automotive industry. This program is a great way to get exposed to some of these new technologies.”

As we see in our second segment, Saddleback College’s partnerships with industry are providing students with state-of-the-art education in rapid manufacturing, the field that enables companies to create three-dimensional computer models of real-world objects in advance of product development.

For the industries of today to be globally competitive, they need people with skills that can drive a product to market in a very short period of time. “Many of today’s companies, particularly the Fortune 50s that are involved with our [Rapid Tech program] are interested in bringing their high-end manufacturing design and tooling back from overseas,” says Saddleback’s Ken Patton. “This is going to create high-wage jobs here in the U.S.”

And graduates of Saddleback’s Rapid Manufacturing program — which provides students with the same experiences they will encounter in the work world — will be ready for these opportunities.

“Our students have to come up with a product that they think is manufacturable and sellable,” explains Saddleback’s Ed Tackett. “They have to conduct market research, develop a business plan, do multiple iterations using the different technologies in the lab and then present their report to an industry panel that we invite in at the end of each semester.”

As this week’s episode illustrates, college programs that partner with industry give students the added benefits of real-life applications, providing them with an important edge they enter today’s competitive job market.

Redefining “Geek” and “Glamour”

Friday, March 5th, 2010
The New Computer Engineer Barbie

The New Computer Engineer Barbie

Elaine Craft, director of the SC ATE Center of Excellence since 1994, co-principal investigator for the SC ATE National Resource Center for Expanding Excellence in Technician Education, and founder and president of SCATE Inc., a not-for-profit corporation created in 2005 to promote systemic change in ATE, shares her thoughts on scientific and technological careers for women.

So you are good in math and you like science, right? Do you worry that someone may think you are a geek? No doubt there are some geeks out there of both male and female varieties, but the geek doesn’t have to be you. Geeks are found in every field…you know who they are. They are the ones with no fashion sense, limited personality, and good grades. What is important to know about geeks is that even when they excel in school, they probably won’t get the best jobs. Today’s best jobs go to those who have social skills. Being able to work well with others and communicate clearly is as important as having strong science, math, engineering, and technology knowledge and skills. Today’s really important work is done by professionals working in teams, and working effectively in a team requires skills in which we females typically excel. Choosing to pursue a career as a technician or in another related field that requires engineering, technology, math and science knowledge can give you the opportunity to create your own definition of what glamour means. You can make money, be feminine, well-dressed, and….well… glamorous! The dictionary defines glamour as “a luring or fascinating attraction” which, you must admit, is much harder to achieve when you are surrounded by girls than it is when you are surrounded by guys. Don’t let anyone discourage you. Ignore the naysayers and go for the gold and for the glamour by following your talent and interest in math, science and technology.

Thanks, Elaine!

That’s what Barbie is doing these days! Yes, Barbie, the iconic doll who turned 50 last year and has had past lives as a beach beauty, a princess, a rock star and an airline stewardess, will now have a new role as a Computer Engineer. This latest Barbie incarnation, due to be released by the Mattel toy company next October, will don a binary number tee shirt and a cell-phone headset and carry a laptop computer. Mattel notes that their ever-popular doll is an important role model for young girls — fully 90 percent of girls under age 10 own at least one Barbie.

But real-life examples of women role models redefining these stereotypes are equally important. As MSNBC has recently reported, many colleges and communities are developing new programs to expose young women to careers in science and technology and we feature them regularly on ATETV.

It looks like Geek might just indeed be Glamorous!

ATETV Episode 24: Creative Careers

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

This week, we look at three very different learning experiences, all of which demonstrate that the workplace of the future is anything but dull and routine.

In our first segment, we head to San Diego to the MATE ROV Competition, where an all-women’s team from Arizona State University is proving that when it comes to building Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs), there’s no such thing as a gender role.

Sometimes known as “underwater robots,” ROVs are used in a wide range of fields, from marine biology to homeland security. And, as demand for this technology grows, companies will increasingly be looking for diversity in their workforces.

“This competition shows there’s a shift in the traditional roles for women,” notes Nancy Fletcher, an employer with Oceanography International. “They’re the team captains, they’re piloting, they’re hands-on — they’re breaking their nails, so to speak.”

And while these women are focusing on technologies to be used in the depths of the ocean, student Paul Marquis is turning his attention to the skies above. As a Wind Energy major at Laramie County Community College, Paul is learning to operate and maintain wind turbines, becoming part of an emerging field that harnesses power from the wind to create electricity.

Small class size, one-on-one instruction and an inspiring mentor are adding up to what Paul hopes will be a lifelong career path. “Mike Schmidt is a great mentor,” says Paul. “He’s been out in the industry, he’s not just someone who read the book. I think it’s a lot better to learn from someone who’s been out in the field and has gotten his hands dirty.” Paul notes that the Wind Energy program is his first post-secondary school experience. “Before this, I was moving from job to job, but now I’m learning lasting skills.” And he hopes that the program will be a launching pad for a lifelong career in the wind industry. “There’s a reason we’re looking for new sources of energy — and this is a good one.”

Finally, in our third segment, we visit with Ryan Snell, who is enrolled in the Video Simulation and Game Development program at Wake Technical College, where he is turning his love of computer games into a career pursuit. “I would say I’m a game developer,” notes Ryan. “The art, the programming, the production — with this program, I have a hand in every cycle of video game development.” And with the creation of “Rock Renegades” — one of eight new games that he and his student partner have developed in a single semester — Ryan’s entrepreneurial spirit has been unleashed. “It was the greatest experience I ever had,” he says.

As the subjects in this week’s episode have shown, creativity, ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit abound in many of today’s newest training programs — our featured students are pursuing much more than just jobs, they’re passionate about their future careers.