When Richland College was awarded the $3.25 million Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant from the U.S. Department of Labor in Sept. 2014, the potential impact on local industry was evident. The funds from this grant, along with multiple partnerships with employers in Dallas, Richardson and Garland, would equip Richland College with the tools and technology needed to train local veterans and others seeking to enter or re-enter the high-demand technology job market. In turn, local companies would receive qualified employees ready for immediate employment and trained on industry-recognized equipment.
Richland College’s Technology, Engineering and Advanced Manufacturing (TEAM) Center is a very tangible result of the TAACCCT grant funds. The space is fully equipped with leading edge, industry-quality technology that allows engineering and manufacturing students to have relevant, hands-on experience and career-focused training. It features an advanced manufacturing center, electronics engineering equipment, a robotics training lab and multiple classrooms for additional technology training.
It is in this innovative, technologically advanced place that the other tangible results of the grant have been taking shape as students prepare to enter the workforce.
Cisco Iturbe is an electrical engineering technology student at Richland College and a U.S. Marine Corps veteran. He has been attending Richland College for several semesters and is looking forward to graduating soon with one course remaining. His immediate goal is to get a job in the electrical engineering field, and he hopes eventually to own his own business.
After completing four years of active duty and two years in the reserves, Iturbe came to Richland College because of the equipment he saw set up in the labs, which he felt allowed students the opportunity to learn in an industry-standard environment and gain vital hands-on experience. As a student, the variety of equipment available has also provided Iturbe the opportunity to enhance his electronics technology education with experience in other areas that may help him in the future, such hydraulics, manufacturing and robotics.
“For me, doing things hands-on is very important,” said Iturbe. “Once you get your hands on something, it makes a world of difference because if you’ve never touched it, you don’t know what it feels like or what it does. If you don’t know that, then how are you going to do anything with it? So Richland College gives me the opportunity to learn and embed it as a muscle memory, not just an educational memory.”
“I would recommend Richland because of the different areas they teach you,” said Iturbe. “I’m here for electronics, but I’ve learned a few other things that have helped. Richland is here to help in a lot of ways—so many people want to help you. The staff is really uplifting, and the professors really know their stuff.”
According to Garth Clayton, Ph. D., Richland College’s dean of resource development, Iturbe is one of approximately 50 veterans who are now involved in the advanced manufacturing or electronics technology programs in the TEAM Center.
“One of the things we offer here is the replication of the real experience,” said Clayton. “We have invested a great deal of our resources in offering different brands of the same equipment that people use in real life. And what happens is that [the students] learn to do everything here to walk into the job, able to work with whatever the employer provides. So they are hitting the ground running whenever they obtain one of our degrees or certificates.”
Advanced manufacturing student Monica Lee has watched the TEAM Center develop around her and become a thriving learning space as she has studied at Richland College during the past three years.
“I was looking to do something with 3D modeling and design, things like AutoCAD and industrial design. I live here in Dallas, and I was doing research and saw that Richland had those classes offered here,” said Lee. “I came down and checked out the campus and was really impressed with what was available. Even though the lab wasn’t finished when I started, I got to see it come to fruition, and it’s just an amazing facility.”
To prepare Lee and other advanced manufacturing students, the program at Richland College teaches them each step of the process, starting with designing a part on a computer that will later be manufactured. From there, students design how the machine will cut the part, and once that is complete, they simply walk down the hall to the lab and actually create what they designed, cutting the metal and setting up the machines themselves. Lee describes this start-to-finish education as hands-on support to what students learn in the classroom, which to her is key to understanding what goes into the technical requirements of manufacturing.
Lee will graduate this May with not only her class experience, but also on-the-job training through an internship obtained via Richland’s corporate partnership with Raytheon Precision Manufacturing, where she hopes to continue working and growing in her career after graduating with an associate degree.
“All the technology at this internship was the same, and all the skills that I learned here [at Richland College] were immediately used from day one,” said Lee. “It helped me be able to shine in the job because I knew firsthand what was going on. So it was actually really seamless to go from Richland to my internship.”
While Iturbe and Lee are studying in different programs and have different goals, both of them, along with many other students, have benefited from the TAAACCCT grant and Richland College’s TEAM Center.
“Cisco [Iturbe] is a great example of someone who likes our program and can see a future for himself in it, and Monica [Lee] is also an example of the way that our students are able to transition into the workforce very quickly and very easily,” said Clayton. “As part of this community, which includes a very vibrant advanced manufacturing and electronics technology group of corporations and shops, we are pleased to be able to support them in this way.”
As a direct result of the grant, Richland College’s accomplishments to date include: 14,500 square feet of renovated space; $1.3 million worth of capital equipment and $400,000 worth of minor equipment, all installed and now operating since 2016; three additional faculty members and three additional staff members hired; two credit certificate and one continuing education certificate offerings added; 37 Associate of Applied Science degrees and 39 certificates in electronics and manufacturing awarded; 32 Associate of Applied Science degrees and 136 certificates in computer information technology awarded since that program’s inclusion in the grant; 292 students enrolled in electronics and manufacturing programs and 464 students in computer information technology programs in the 2018 spring semester; and 277 passed NIMS credentials in eight different credential exams. In addition, Richland College has also completed a cognitive task analysis and received new courseware for wire EDM, another common manufacturing process.
Even though the grant has ended, Richland College will continue to offer the curricula that were promised in the grant; offer credit for prior learning; add and replace additional equipment such as hydraulics, motor controls, modular assembly systems and programmable logic controllers; and will be adding new automation courses for aerospace, defense and communication needs.
Prior to installing the new equipment in the TEAM Center, Richland College donated all its previous, usable equipment to the Richardson Independent School District and the Garland Independent School District. Richland College also has technology-based early college high school programs with Dallas Independent School District’s Hillcrest High School and Emmett J. Conrad High School, giving high school students the opportunity to earn both their high school diploma and an Associate of Applied Science degree in just four years.
A recent event at Richland College celebrated these accomplishments and the student success that came as a direct result of the TAACCCT grant funds. At the event, Richardson mayor Paul Voelker spoke about the impact the grant had upon Richland College, and as a direct result, the impact of those workforce-ready students entering the local job force, specifically in Richardson’s Telecom Corridor.
“I’m keenly aware of what you’re doing here and the value added,” Voelker told the crowd. “It’s so important today that our employers know that their talent is here, and if it’s not here, we can create it here, or we can reinvent it here because we are always constantly learning.”
“Coming full-circle and seeing the advanced manufacturing capabilities that we can do right here, not only in the USA, but in north Texas, is pretty cool. We can compete with anybody in the world, at any level, because we have the talent and what it takes to make those businesses successful.”
For more information about Richland College’s School of Engineering and Technology or the TEAM Center, visit richlandcollege.edu/et.