Wiregrass Awarded NSF Advanced Technology Education Grant

Staff Report From Valdosta CEO

Monday, May 18th, 2020

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded Wiregrass Georgia Technical College an Advanced Technology Education Grant in the amount of $299,206. The college will use this grant money to create curriculum for technician training that will bring the college’s instruction up to and in-line with Industry 4.0 standards.
The technician training grant will be instrumental in allowing Wiregrass Tech the time and resources to create fourth generation instructional and training curriculum.  “To put this in a current, real world perspective, think about how eight weeks ago when our nation was hit with the COVID-19 pandemic,” shared Dr. Shawn Utley, Executive Vice President of Wiregrass Tech.  “Within hours of learning there may be a PPE shortage, students at WGTC used a 3D instructional manufacturing model located on our WGTC campus(s) and were able to simulate the immediate retooling of a high tech manufacturing production line and make enough reusable ventilation masks to be used by our instructors as we transition to allowing instructors and students back on campus.”  These masks will be used as the Technical College System of Georgia has established guidelines for employees returning to work and approved limited labs where staff/faculty, and students are required to wear protective masks.  Around 60 masks were made using Mechatronics technology.  The instructors were able to take what is being taught in Mechatronics and Wiregrass students are able to apply those applications in a real world, high tech setting to create the masks.
“The great thing about this grant is the ability to teach students in Mechatronics an Industry 4.0 standard that allowsthem to do complex things like 3D printing,” shared Utley.  “It’s a very small part of what we will be teaching as we move forward with these high tech industry standards.”
The college’s engineering instructional team will use this opportunity, funded by the NSF, to create curriculum that will move the instructional capabilities from 3rd generation to 4th generation manufacturing. In order to develop the Industry 4.0 program, emerging technologies such as cloud computing, blockchain, and artificial intelligence are integrated into the existing competencies of mechatronics, engineering, and rapid prototyping, very similar to the skills being used to develop the 3D printed masks. The rapid advancement of technologies within the manufacturing sector has created a workforce need that the Industry 4.0 program at Wiregrass Georgia Technical College will address by not only training students, but by offering professional development to other educators throughout the state. Currently, no training program consisting of this type of cutting edge technology and skills exists today. However, once the team at Wiregrass fully develops the program, the course standards will then be shared with all 22 technical colleges throughout Georgia, further increasing the workforce readiness capabilities of the entire state, by creating an infrastructure designed to prepare students, educators, and employers for Industry 4.0.