More students being trained to fix robots and machinery through a successful partnership between two local colleges

By: Jennifer Ferrero, APR

It’s been 42 years since the working girl comedy Laverne and Shirley first came on the air. If you remember it, you may remember that the friends and roommates ensued comedy while working on the line as bottle cappers at Shotz Brewery in Milwaukee. If you go back even farther in popular culture, you’ll remember the famous scene of Lucille Ball trying to keep up with a conveyer belt of chocolates in a factory.

While in 2019 factories still exist, there have been some mighty big changes. For one thing, most factories are automating. Robotics and automation equipment have changed the appearance of the manufacturing floor. While it’s taken out room for error, with people on the line, it has created an entirely new industry called Mechatronics, which has fostered a great training relationship between two of Washington’s Community and Technical Colleges.

“We don’t need any more Laverne and Shirley’s working on the line, we need to train Laverne and Shirley to fix the line,” said Lauren Hadley of Shoreline Community College who partnered with North Seattle College to offer a Mechatronics degree.

Hadley, along with Aaron Korningbel of North Seattle College, and led by Mary Kaye Bredeson with the Center of Excellence were discussing how to best offer Mechatronics programming at Community and Technical Colleges in Washington.

Often, community colleges can operate in a competitive environment, but this story shows that when two community and technical colleges work together, they can have positive collaborative results.

At the Washington Workforce Association conference (November 2018, Seattle, 500 attendees), Hadley and Korningbel presented, “Two great colleges that work well together,” a spin off on the 1970’s Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercials.

They wanted to show people that degrees in Mechantronics are important to today’s workforce and can help our manufacturing companies. But more than that, they wanted to show that two community colleges offering similar curriculum, could partner to make one degree – saving time and money for the colleges and the students.

Shoreline Community College offered a great CNC Machining Program, while North Seattle offered hydraulics and pneumatics and had a great lab. The colleges, just 10-minutes from each other figured that if they partnered, and worked together on financial aid, and accommodated students, that they could offer the Mechatronics degree faster and cheaper than if they each set up the additional classes needed to complete the degree.

“We both had established programs that were half of what it takes to build a Mechatronics program. We are so close (in proximity) that we just married the two programs that were already established. We took programs that were occurring separately and put them together,” said Hadley.

The degree launched in fall 2017 – it has been going for a year. Many students had taken several classes but decided to change focus to go for the 2-year Mechatronics degree. Hadley added, “We have people that are graduating with their two-year degree because they had other classes under their belts. Some may have had an associate in CNC machining at Shoreline and now the Mechatronics associate degree.”

Korningbel said that students like the program and don’t mind commuting between the two schools, “The partnership has been well-received; the students appreciate learning from subject matter experts in the field and learning hands-on in the lab has been a benefit.”

In many industries, students are in such demand that they are hired right out of their college programs to go to work. Some students never make it back, but local employers are now telling their students to stay in their programs and finish their degrees.

Korningbel and Hadley said, “For students who feel that they don’t want to finish their degree, because they’ve gotten the job already, get the associates degree and finish it so that if you need to move away from skilled labor positions; you will be able to move into other positions like management. For people who choose to go to school to improve their skills, they will make a better employee.”