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Gadsden State awarded a grant for over $435K from National Science Foundation

Gadsden State Community College has secured a $435,169 grant from the National Science Foundation.

The project is titled “Automating Alabama’s Future: Producing Advanced Automation Technicians.” The award starts June 1 and will be used to develop program curriculum and purchase equipment for an automated industrial line, including programmable logic controllers, a robot and conveyor system.

“The equipment and the program curriculum will train skilled technicians in advanced manufacturing to help close the skills gap and fulfill the needs of Alabama’s advanced manufacturing workforce,” said Dr. Martha Lavender, president of Gadsden State.

A new advanced short-term certificate in Mechatronics and Robotics will be offered as a part of Gadsden State’s Industrial Automation Program.

“Alabama’s workforce is in need of those with advanced skills, and it is our mission at Gadsden State to provide educational opportunities that will fulfill that need,” said Pam Johnson, dean of Institutional Effectiveness, Grants and Special Projects.

The program will enable students to receive synthesized training in the latest technology required to operate, troubleshoot and maintain intelligent machines and computerized smart equipment used in the industry. It will integrate systems, including mechanical, electrical, computer and control systems.

“This is important to our industry partners, especially those with automated lines,” she said. “Thanks to the NSF grant, we will be able to train advanced technicians in Mechatronics and build the workforce.”

Initial letters of support for the grant were provided by Fehrer, Rainsville Technology Inc., Kronospan, KTH Leesburg LLC and Tyler Union Quality Water Works. After a request for additional information, Honda Manufacturing of Alabama also sent a letter.

Johnson said Gadsden State will strive to establish articulation agreements with four-year universities that have Engineering or Applied Engineering Programs.

“The essence is that Alabama’s future workforce will be stronger through advanced training in Mechatronics and Robotics,” she said.

The grant will also provide outreach opportunities for the College. During the next two summers, Gadsden State will host Girls Rock Robotics workshops as well as student empowerment camps and high school counselor camps. During the spring of 2020 and 2021, the College will promote the Mechatronics and Robotics certificate during a community outreach program titled An Evening in Engineering. Promotions will also take place at Worlds of Work as well as through Youth Leadership Calhoun County.

Under the direction of industrial automation instructors Audrey Webb and Jack Mayfield, Johnson said she expects the Mechatronics and Robotics Program to be used as a model for the Alabama Community College System and beyond.

“We want to propel the two-year college system to a new level in training manufacturing technicians by applying the advanced curriculum to a new level of teaching integrated skills on intelligent line-based manufacturing systems,” she said. “We are enabling new students as well as displaced and underemployed workers caught in the skills gap, and we are enhancing the recruitment of women into advanced technician fields. This grant is of great benefit to not only Gadsden State and its students but also to the entire state of Alabama.”