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VSU and NCI are collaborating on manufacturing courses
Shown discussing plans Tuesday to develop advanced manufacturing degree and certificate programs at the New College Institute are (clockwise, from left) Keith Williamson, dean of the School of Engineering, Science and Technology at Virginia State University; NCI Executive Director William Wampler; Dawit Haile, professor of computer science and mathematics at VSU; Coray Davis, an assistant professor in VSU’s Department of Mechanical Engineering Technology; Larry Brown, associate dean of the engineering school; NCI Associate Director/Chief Academic Officer Leanna Blevins; Conaway Haskins, VSU’s director of sponsored research and economic development; and Muriel Hawkins, VSU’s associate provost of partnerships and engagement. (Bulletin photos by Mike Wray)
Virginia State University (VSU) and the New College Institute (NCI) are working to develop an advanced manufacturing program at NCI that ultimately could bring high-tech companies to the area.
On Monday and Tuesday, a team of VSU administrators visited NCI and some local high-tech companies to see the firms’ production capabilities and learn about skills their employees must have.
“It blows me away how smart the machines are (now),” said Keith Williamson, dean of the School of Engineering, Science and Technology at VSU in Petersburg. Basically, “they talk to you.”
For instance, some machines provide information on the pressure of fluids flowing through them and their operating temperatures — factors that can affect manufacturing processes, Williamson said.
And, when a piece of equipment wears out, “the machine stops” instantly, he said.
To rectify problems and keep the machines going, workers must know how to manage and interpret data provided by the machines and make decisions based on that data, in addition to understanding how the machines operate, he added.
RTI International Metals and Commonwealth Laminating — the local companies that VSU officials visited — use such data management in their manufacturing processes, Williamson said.
That is why an advanced manufacturing education program is needed locally, according to Williamson and NCI Executive Director William Wampler.
NCI wants to develop a curriculum that will allow students to be able to earn a certificate that will help them get jobs with manufacturers and then, as they have time and the desire, return to earn other certificates and degrees that will help them get better jobs, according to Wampler.
Earning a certificate in an advanced manufacturing skill could take no more than 12 months, Wampler indicated.
Funded by the state and The Harvest Foundation, NCI provides local access to courses required to earn certain degrees from various universities. Students pay tuition charged by those universities.
VSU is one of three partner universities that work closely with NCI.
Williamson said he envisions VSU eventually offering bachelor’s degrees at NCI in fields such as computer engineering, manufacturing engineering, mechanical engineering and industrial and logistics technology.
It will take time to develop an entire curriculum, but Wampler said he hopes NCI can offer at least one advanced manufacturing certificate this fall.
VSU is the right university to provide the advanced manufacturing program at NCI, he said, not only because of its School of Engineering, Science and Technology but also because it is a charter member of the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing (CCAM) in Prince George County.
Other university members of CCAM are Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia.
CCAM is a research center that “bridges the gap between fundamental research typically performed at universities and product development routinely performed by companies,” according to its website.
Member companies that do research there — such as Canon, Siemens and Rolls-Royce — share their results, which enables them to “capitalize on new breakthrough developments,” the website states.
Williamson and Wampler agree that an advanced manufacturing education program at NCI could attract more high-tech companies to the region.
After the program is developed, they said, there could be opportunities for students to do internships at CCAM and employees of local companies to do research there.