College programs designed to build industrial labor

By Ashley Barker 
abarker@scbiznews.com
Published Dec. 24, 2013
From the Dec. 16, 2013 print edition

Two Lowcountry colleges are offering new programs to develop a local pool of talent to support the needs of the growing defense, technology and manufacturing industries.

The Citadel Graduate College will begin offering a mechanical engineering undergraduate degree beginning with a summer session in May, and Trident Technical College starts new manufacturing certification track classes in January.

In October, the S.C. Commission on Higher Education approved a request from The Citadel to build a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering. It will be offered to full-time members of the Corps of Cadets and non-cadet students, according to School of Engineering Dean Ronald Welch. Available tracks include power and energy, manufacturing, aeronautical systems, materials and mechatronics.

Ronald Welch, dean of The Citadel School of Engineering
Ronald Welch, dean of The Citadel School of Engineering
Welch said the program should have been established 50 years ago, but the need for mechanical engineers became clear to him when he met with officials from the Boeing Co. in late 2011.

He said Boeing needed to further educate its current workforce to move employees up in the company and increase their skills. Boeing also needed institutions to increase the number of local mechanical engineers with a focus in composites for the company to employ. Ten to 20 students are expected to start the program in May, he said.

“About a third of the students coming here this summer and the following year are all current Boeing employees looking to advance. Our job is to create mechanical engineers who want to stay in the Lowcountry and meet the needs of South Carolina businesses,” Welch said.

The Citadel offers the only full-time, evening undergraduate engineering degree program in the state and has asked for $1.7 million from the Legislature to continue its growth, according to Welch. A request has been made for a $1.4 million non-recurring grant to purchase equipment and a $300,000 recurring grant to fund faculty salaries in the mechanical engineering program.

“We’re part of the economic engine here in the Lowcountry. We’re hopeful we’ll get the funding. It will greatly assist us in accomplishing the mission,” he said. “But it’s not going to stop us if we don’t get the money.”

Two mechanical engineering faculty members have already been hired and are set to begin work in January, Welch said.

The majority of students are expected to attend through a 2+2 program with Trident Technical College and 10 other community colleges in the state. The students would attend community college for the first two years, then transfer to The Citadel for the remaining courses, which will be taught in the evenings.

Trident Tech’s new manufacturing certification, offered through its Division of Continuing Education and Economic Development, will prepare students for careers as production technicians.

The industry-recognized national certification consists of 200 hours of classroom training, hands-on skills training and production simulation. Students also will learn to read blueprints and enhance their use of hand and power tools.

“We believe this program will be an asset to our community and the state by helping to prepare workers for manufacturing jobs,” said Bob Walker, vice president of the continuing education division. “Manufacturing has long been an important industry in our state, and we welcome the opportunity to provide the necessary training for the next generation of workers.”

Reach Ashley Barker at 843-849-3144 or @AshleyNBarker.

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