ATETV Episode 35: On the Pulse of the Future

This week, we visit a community college that is working hand-in-hand with the fuel cell industry to prepare students for jobs of the future, hear from a professional firefighter who has returned to school to study Civil Architectural Technology and visit an ROV underwater robotics competition that is helping students and employers to connect with one another.

In our first segment, we visit Stark State College, where a state-of-the-art Fuel Cell Technology program is providing employers with student employees trained in the industry’s most up-to-date technologies and mechanics.

“We’re in the process of developing technology that will eventually be designed into a product — the stationary solid oxide fuel cell system,” explains Mark Fleiner of Rolls-Royce Fuel Cell Systems, which has its headquarters on the Stark State campus. “[The Stark State Fuel Cell Technology] program gives us the opportunity to work [directly] with students, to get students into our business to see how things work in our company and to see if there’s a good fit between the student and our business needs.”

And the college’s focused approach of aligning educational curriculum with industry needs is beneficial for students and employees alike. “External partnerships for colleges are critical because it lets us keep our hand on the pulse of what’s happening in our fields,” says Stark State’s Dennis Trenger. “Without [our] business partners coming back and saying, ‘Here are the skills that we need for future employees,’ we’d be shooting in the dark.”

In our second segment, Sinclair Community College student Jon Flynn describes his return to the college’s Civil Architectural Technology Program — after 15 years in the firefighting field. “In 1993, I believe it was, I started this program at Sinclair,” Jon explains. But a switch to a Fire Science Technology major led Jon to a career as a professional firefighter. Now, he says, he’s back to where he started so that he’ll have another career to fall back on.

And, as he describes, today’s Civil Architectural Technology is a whole new field compared with 15 years ago. “The technology has come so far compared to when I was initially in the program,” he explains. “There was no such thing as green building and not nearly as much emphasis on saving energy.”

Today’s focus on sustainable buildings has Jon excited about his future. “I’ve always dreamed of being able to design a building for a client that was completely self-sufficient, [making use of] solar power, wind power [or] geothermal technology. This might be a little bit down the road, but we are certainly going in the right direction.”

Finally, in our third segment, we talk with participants at the MATE (Marine Advanced Technology Education Center) International ROV competition. “ROV stands for remotely operated vehicle,” explains Jill Zande of the MATE Center. And, through this annual underwater robotics competition, students are not only developing problem-solving, critical-thinking and team-work skills, they are learning that there are a sea of opportunities open to Marine Technology students.

“One of the things that this contest does is open [students’] eyes to disciplines [that they might not otherwise have considered]” explains Fritz Stahr of the University of Washington. “You know, we have students who come here from an engineering [curriculum] and now they’re beginning to see something of oceanography. We have others who are coming from a science background and they begin to realize that there are a lot of challenges in engineering. The career paths available are varied and they can range from marine policy to actual engineering design and from the building of new instrument systems to the actual role of the research scientist, using ROVs to gather data about how the oceans work.”

As today’s episode demonstrated, when it comes to emerging technologies, community colleges really do have their hands on the pulse of the future — where a sea of opportunities await.

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