UNC President Tom Ross and Chancellor Anne Ponder visit the Mechatronics program
Inside a Robinson Hall laboratory, stacked floor-to-ceiling with shelves full of wires, circuit boards, and dissected electronic equipment, students Patrick Herron and Nick Matney were quietly collaborating on a Mechatronics project when they were visited by no less than two university chancellors and the president of the multi-campus UNC system.
The students' project involved disassembling a DC-powered electric motor, re-engineering it and integrating it to a set of computer controls that would allow it to run at variable and precise speeds. Both Herron and Matney plan to graduate in a few weeks, and they already have their job prospects lined up.
Their visitors—who included University of North Carolina President Tom Ross, N.C. State Chancellor Randy Woodson and UNC Asheville Chancellor Anne Ponder – were very interested in hearing about the practical applications of Herron and Matney's work. Electric motors like this could power everything from industrial robotics to factory assembly lines.
The group of visitors also received an update on the unique and successful N.C. State-UNC Asheville undergraduate Mechatronics Engineering Program—one of only two such ABET-accredited undergrad programs in the country—and the universities' joint 2+2 Engineering degree.
"Mechatronics is not what you would typically expect to find at a liberal arts institution," said President Ross, "but the interaction of this engineering program— which is a multi-disciplinary engineering program—really fits with this campus. And I think the engineering students greatly benefit from learning in this liberal arts environment."
The Mechatronics program is a partnership between N.C. State and UNC Asheville. Students complete the entire degree in Asheville. Coursework in the natural sciences, humanities and social sciences is delivered by UNC Asheville, while N.C. State engineering coursework is delivered by on-site N.C. State faculty and distance-education technology.
"When students graduate from this program, they receive a diploma that shows they attended both universities," said Chancellor Ponder. "It represents the strong commitment between UNC Asheville and N.C. State to offer a leading-edge engineering curriculum that serves our graduates and the needs of our local business community."
For the 2+2 Engineering degree program, engineering students complete their first two years at UNC Asheville and then finish their undergraduate degrees at N.C. State.
New Learning Facilities
The group also toured the future engineering facilities in the newly renovated Rhoades Hall, one of UNC Asheville's science buildings. They visited smart classrooms, a laboratory, and a video-linked classroom which connects student with faculty at N.C. State.
"With the renovation of Rhoades Hall, we are adding significantly expanded laboratory and fabrication facilities so that students will be able to learn and implement advanced and traditional techniques to design, machine, and build mechatronic systems as part of their curriculum " said Joe Fahmy, director of the North Carolina State University Engineering Program at UNC Asheville.
With the renovation nearing completion, the Mechatronics and 2+2 Engineering programs will move into Rhoades Hall before the Fall 2012 semester, where they will be joined by other departments like Environmental Sciences, Math, Physics and the National Environmental Modeling and Analysis Center (NEMAC).
UNC Asheville and N.C. State University developed the Mechatronics program in Fall 2002. Since then, 65 students have earned their bachelor's degree in Mechatronics, with eight more completing the degree this coming May.
Approximately 90 percent of the program's graduates are employed in the field of Mechatronics and the related fields of mechanical and electrical engineering, primarily in the greater Asheville area. Mechatronics graduates are employed by many local and regional engineering companies, including the local Eaton Corporation plant, Arvato Digital Systems, Baxter Healthcare, BAE Aerospace, Kearfott Guidance and Navigation, Wilsonart International, ArvinMeritor, and Nypro Injection, as well as TMEIC–Roanoke, and BMW-Greenville.
"The Mechatronics engineering program at UNC Asheville has been an outstanding partnership between Eaton Corporation and the university," said John Wirtz, Eaton Corporation Electrical Group's Asheville plant manager. "The program graduates possess the engineering skill sets that allow employers to compete in a diverse and globally competitive economy."
As for the students who met the group on their tour, Herron accepted a job offer over the winter break to work for a company that develops equipment steel manufacturers and cargo cranes.
Matney says that he has a strong prospect with a job for a company just 30 minutes outside of Asheville. He didn't want to elaborate much further, but said that it's just a matter of "hearing back from the H.R. person."
That may sound like a lot of confidence for someone who hasn't graduated yet, but when your diploma comes from two of the finest state universities in N.C., and your degree is in 21st century cutting-edge technology, employers take notice.