Teachers listen attentively to mechatronics students talking about their experiences in the field during Central Community College's mechatronics workshop on Thursday.

Area teachers reentered the classrooms recently despite school being out for summer, but this time as the students.

“We have mainly math, science (and) industrial art teachers here with us,” said Elizabeth Fisher, project coordinator for training and development at Central Community College. “We wanted to bring them together to expose them to what mechatronics is (because) a lot of people don’t really know what it is.”

Mechatronics is technology combining electronics and mechanical engineering. And this week, Central Community College, 4500 63rd St., hosted a two-day mechatronics workshop for teachers throughout the area highlighting the ins and outs of mechatronics to be incorporated into their classrooms. The session was led by Dan Davidchik, process instrumentation and control instructor at CCC. It also featured guest speakers talking about grant applications and mechatronics school courses.

“It’s a lot of information and a lot that I can take back to my classroom and my kids and tell them about CCC, too,” said Shelly Mayo, middle school science teacher at Aquinas & St. Mary’s Catholic Schools in David City. “I don’t think kids realize what CCC offers.”

The college received a grant through the National Science Foundation’s Mechatronics with Instrumentation and Controls program last year, allowing it to put together professional development workshops for educators.

The workshop equipped teachers with the basics of mechatronics, the skills involved and its career opportunities. Attendees, consisting of a diverse group of teaching visiting from David City, Schuyler, Rising City and Osceola, were given a stipend of $110 to attend the course.

“So we want to make sure that they have a good foundation of being able to explain to their students and what this is, the careers that are associated, the pay that goes with it, which is wonderful, and the large need throughout Nebraska, the U.S and the world,” Fisher said.

Fisher said Columbus has a robust manufacturing industry that increasingly utilizes machines and computers in its operations, resulting in the growing need for employees with mechatronics backgrounds to operate and fix equipment.

“Our students are the ones who go out and fix the machines,” she said. “They do preventative maintenance that upgrades (the machines). They draw schematics and implement new machines to be used so they’re really crucial.”

The workshop provided a hands-on environment where participants were given mechatronics-related projects such as a hydraulic system and an electric circuit to build and operate using mathematical calculations. Teachers were able to take home these projects to be implemented in their classes.

The course also included a student panel consisting of three students, who recently graduated from Columbus High School, illustrating their journeys and experiences in implementing their mechatronics skills.

Toward the end of the workshop, participants were broken up into two groups to tour local manufacturing companies, ADM and BD Medical - Pharmaceutical Systems, where they had a sneak peek of how mechatronics was implemented and how the industry looked like today.

“There’s still some kind of stigma attached to manufacturing, especially, and it really is so different than the assembly line and people just putting the same piece on over and over again,” Fisher said.

Fisher added people would be surprised to see more machines than people working in these factories, noting these businesses operate in a safer and cleaner environment now than they did decades ago.

Before attending the course, Mayo said she did not know the span of opportunities available in the manufacturing industry.

Fisher said many of the teachers left the workshop feeling excited to pass on what they’ve learned to their students.

The workshop will be taken place annually in the summer with the goal of educating local educators about mechatronics and why it is an important skill for students to learn.

“I think it would be really beneficial to those students who don’t know about the careers that are there, those kids who like to work with their hands (and) figuring out how things work,” Fisher said.

Natasya Ong is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach her via email at natasya.ong@lee.net.

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