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As he walked through Spartanburg Community College’s mechatronics labs and classrooms and watched students work this week, Don Calhoon said things suddenly made sense.
“Honestly I had to go to YouTube and look up ‘mechatronics’ to figure out exactly what we were going to be seeing,” said Calhoon, the long range planning chairman of the Heritage Classic Foundation board of trustees. “Now, I get it. I had no idea at the relationship between the business community and schools like Spartanburg Community College and how closely they worked together. This is clearly a great partnership that is benefiting the school, the students and these companies.”
Major upgrades to college mechatronics programs across the state are on the way thanks, at least in part, to a major donation from the Heritage Classic Foundation and the RBC Foundation. The groups will commit $300,000 over the next three years to the South Carolina Technical College system.
The move will boost the number of faculty statewide schooled in the Siemens Mechatronics System Certification Program at the state’s 16 technical and community colleges.
“Our goal at RBC is to empower young people with the skills they need to succeed in the jobs of tomorrow,” Doug McGregor, head of the Capital Markets and Investor and Treasury Services group at RBC, said in an April statement. “That’s why we’re thrilled to partner with the Heritage Classic Foundation on this new initiative that provides a pathway for students to leverage their skills and experiences and translate them into high-demand, local jobs.”
The nonprofit Heritage Classic Foundation is the general sponsor of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage, South Carolina’s only PGA tournament. It’s donated more than $41 million to charity since 1987.
Jay Coffer, chairman of Spartanburg Community College’s Advanced Manufacturing Department, said the school and its instructors have held Siemens Level 1 or 2 certification for more than a decade.
“It’s not just a local or a regional certification,” Coffer said. “This gives our program and our graduates a global certification that’s recognized anywhere in the world.”
Coffer said the 12-month Level 1 certification and two-year Level 2 programs are geared towards producing maintenance or engineering technicians capable of finding a role at most of the area’s advanced manufacturing firms.
He said students are exposed to a breadth of in-demand subject areas, including coursework in programmable logic controllers, hydraulic and mechanical system and robotics.
The SCC mechatronics program’s enrollment is currently the largest in the state, according to statistics provided by the school. It hosts eight instructors and some 360 enrolled students.
The next largest program, at Greenville Technical College, has 300 students enrolled.
“What this funding from the Heritage Classic Foundation is going to allow us to do is really work to expand this program statewide,” Coffer said. “We’re going to host the second round of training for instructors the last week of July and the first week of August, and we’re working with state officials in terms of understanding all the equipment needs throughout the rest of the system.”
Those equipment costs are likely to be high, Coffer said. Individual pieces of equipment highlighted within SCC’s mechatronics program Tuesday cost between $10,000 to roughly $250,000 apiece.
“But it’s worth it,” Coffer said. “This opens a lot of doors for students right here at SCC that they can use anywhere across the state, or anywhere else they want to go. Now we’ve got an opportunity to spread that to other technical colleges across the state.”