From Los Alamos to Texas, DCCCD students use mechatronics to study STEM

(Dallas) – Eight Mountain View College students, including seven who are studying mechatronics, are enjoying a dream internship this summer at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in northern New Mexico. Their studies in mechatronics – a discipline that combines mechanics, electricity, electronics and computers – secured their place on the team.

Photo ID (left to right): first row – Adrian Mayberry, Eugene Sparks III, Janice Ford (sponsor/driver), Yassein Fadul, Ian Grey (physics student), Kalen Mason; second row – Devanna Walker (who is not an intern), JaMein Mason and Emmanuel Ayorinde.

Photo ID (left to right): first row – Adrian Mayberry, Eugene Sparks III, Janice Ford (sponsor/driver), Yassein Fadul, Ian Grey (physics student), Kalen Mason; second row – Devanna Walker (who is not an intern), JaMein Mason and Emmanuel Ayorinde.

“They are excited,” said Donald Morris, a mechatronics faculty member at Mountain View College who accompanied the students. “Because of what the team members learned in mechatronics, they came here with knowledge. This internship has given them a lot of confidence and direction about what they want out of life.

“We are building a situation where Los Alamos will invite other students from DCCCD to intern,” Morris added. “All of the students were chosen to participate because of their mechatronics classes.” In fact, the students are doing so well that they already have been invited back for a second internship next year as well as the prospect of transferring credit hours to a four-year college in New Mexico.”

The exposure the students are receiving is enviable, Morris said. Under the tutelage of renowned scientists, the students are participating in research in automation and controls, he added.

Hands-on science

Several MVC interns, like Emmanuel Ayorinde and JaMein Mason, hope to work full time at LANL one day; it is the site of the nation’s nuclear stockpile, which is run by scientists who explore space, renewable energy, medicine and climate change.

“I am certainly glad I’m having this experience and hope that others can be as fortunate as me to do this,” Mason said. “We’re setting the standard. If we can do this and do it successfully, other students will get the chance.”

Ayorinde and Mason are working on a wireless system that will enable remote monitoring of bridges. A drone sends signals indicating whether repairs are needed, according to Ayorinde, who said. “I’ve always liked robotics. When I got to DCCCD, they told me there was a mechatronics class.  I’ve learned robotics, programming and language.”

Yassien Fadul said he is inspired by the Los Alamos scientists who are assisting the students. “We are learning to troubleshoot, but there is so much more than that. Los Alamos is a beautiful place,” he said. “It’s very peaceful, and everyone we work with seems to enjoy what they do.”

At LANL, the students are engaged in a variety of enrichment programs which allow them to keep pace with advancements in science. The internship ends Aug. 12. “This is better than summer vacation because they are learning so much and preparing for their futures,” Morris said. As part of one project, DCCCD students are building web pages, he added.

Mechatronics: a field for career growth

Mechatronics, with its funny and often misunderstood name, is an advanced manufacturing field for those people who are interested in diagnosing, repairing and maintaining automatic equipment. Workers test, maintain, and operate machines at worksites, including factories.

Steady employment and promising incomes await students who are pursuing degrees in mechatronics. DCCCD offers both certificates and associate degrees in this fast-growing field, which is expected to grow by double digits over the next decade. Courses are available at Mountain View and Eastfield colleges.

Mountain View graduated its first group of mechatronics students, 18 in all, in May. The program has been bolstered by dual credit high school students, plus a growing number of college students who are pursuing STEM degrees.

Travis Smith, an adjunct professor at Mountain View, said some of the students who enter the program lack confidence. In the introductory course, the students are taught the fundamentals. They have mini-projects that teach them to build and program circuits, he said. Then they graduate to robotics.

“They eat this up,” Smith said. “They make mistakes, and they go back to the drawing board. That’s when they get really excited. Once they learn that it’s okay to make a mistake, they take off.”

Demanding work calls for skilled tradesmen

As skilled tradesmen, mechatronics workers are in demand in a variety of fields, including robotics, health care, petroleum, agriculture, defense and telecommunications.

Essentially, they are troubleshooters, said Arch Dye, who teaches at Eastfield College. “A wide range of industries use this skill set. Everything is now automated. Our techs work at power plants. We have technicians working all over the world.”

Dye added, “When you walk into a grocery store, you can see that everything except the deli or produce is done with automation.”

Students interested in this field learn about computer controls with sensors.  They become technicians who specialize in research, test automation and smart devices. Tasks are performed with a minimum of human intervention, which frees workers to manage other tasks such as problem solving, experts say.

“The majority of our students have already been out in the workforce,” Dye said. “We have a few coming straight from high school.” Those who have been in the workforce can anticipate higher-paying jobs, he added.

“This trend is really common for quite a few industries. They have an aging workforce that’s within five years of retirement. So companies are trying to transfer that knowledge to the new folks who are coming in,” said Dye.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, median pay is $53,340 annually or about $25.63 per hours for workers in mechatronics. Employment in this field is steady and expected to grow.

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