Virginia Western Community College announces that it has received a grant for $787,849 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Advanced Technological Education (ATE) to transform mechatronics engineering education in the Roanoke Region. The project will build upon a previously NSF-funded initiative to facilitate collaboration between the manufacturing industry, Virginia Western faculty and secondary career and technical educators.

“This is the single largest NSF grant Virginia Western has ever received and it will have a direct impact on students,” said Dr. Robert H. Sandel, President of Virginia Western. “We are thrilled that the NSF recognizes the college’s importance to the local economy and I believe this will continue to strengthen the region’s manufacturing industry. It’s affirmation of the outstanding work faculty members like Dan Horine are doing to provide students with the skills they need for lasting careers.”

The primary objective of the funded project, Partnership for Advanced Career Education in Mechatronics Engineering (PACE ME), is to strengthen Mechatronics technician training pathways from secondary to post-secondary education through a direct link from industry to the classroom. To achieve this mission, the program will focus on the following three goals, 1) Increase and improve the ability of high school and college faculty to provide mechatronics technician training aligned with industry requirements; 2) integrate and expand manufacturing industry involvement through mentorships and internships, and; 3) increase student diversity through recruitment, retention and outreach in Mechatronics engineering technology.

“Mechatronics is thinking about the end in mind and [about] how we are going to integrate these systems from the beginning,” said Horine, who is the principal investigator on the grant and Virginia Western’s program head of Mechatronics Systems Engineering Technology and Energy Management Systems. “I want mechatronics and the integrated approach to be a way of teaching that sets our students up for success.”
This summer, Horine was selected nationally as Educator of the Year at the NSF-sponsored High Impact Technology Exchange Conference (HI-TEC) in Chicago. He was recognized for developing the Mechatronics Systems Engineering Technology associate in applied science degree. There are currently more than 40 students studying mechatronics systems at Virginia Western and more than 250 high school students in the “pipeline” that was developed in part through a previous NSF grant. Industry input from an advisory panel helps inform curriculum.
“If the industry likes what you do, they are going to want more of your graduates,” Horine said. “Right now, the demand for our students is exceeding enrollment. That’s why it’s increasingly important to show students that with the right training, there are great jobs available to them.”

The new PACE ME grant will add apprenticeship experiences for Virginia Western mechatronics students, a fabrication laboratory for faculty professional development, and more outreach to underrepresented minority students. The project was named in honor of the late Gerald “Jerry” Pace, a prominent local manufacturing businessman and long-time supporter of Virginia Western who was instrumental in the creation of the Salem School System and the Community College Access Program (CCAP).

“Jerry had a vision for the continuing economic prosperity in the Roanoke Region and he knew the significant role that education must play,” Horine said. “His ideas and dedication truly inspired this project.”

Educational Partners on the grant include: Bedford County Schools, Botetourt County Schools, Craig County Schools, Franklin County Schools, Roanoke County Schools, Roanoke City Schools, Salem City Schools, Blue Ridge Community College and Tidewater Community College. Industry partners include: Gala Industries, Siemens Corporation, Optical Cable Corporation, Plastics One LLC and Metalsa.