Just last week, Blue Ridge Community College celebrated its 50th anniversary by hosting a luncheon with Dr. Mike Massimino, former NASA astronaut, best-selling author, and professor at Columbia University.
As published in the Times-News, “I think the idea of not giving up is very important,” he said during the luncheon. “There’s a difference between impossible and something being unlikely or really hard.”
On the heels of this space-themed luncheon and National STEM/STEAM Day, I would like to explore the future workplace, how our in-demand engineering programs meet workforce needs, and spotlight one alumnus who exemplifies “the idea of not giving up.”
THE WORKPLACE IN AN AUTOMATED WORLD
According to the World Economic Forum, cognitive computing, robotics, and workforce automation feature prominently in most projections of the future workplace, disrupting former business models and creating new ones.
As Sharon Suess, Pay It Forward Endowed Chair and chair of engineering and advanced manufacturing at Blue Ridge, recently shared with me, we live in an automated world. All fields have been touched by automation — even lesser known industries like pharmaceutical and horticulture. Pharmacies and greenhouses, for instance, are utilizing programmable logic controllers (PLC) and robotics to automate their processes.
These workplace projections are the focus of Blue Ridge’s engineering programs.
ENGINEERING ELEVATED AT BLUE RIDGE
Blue Ridge continues to meet workforce needs by listening and responding to regional advanced manufacturers and educational partners, keeping up with technology advances, then providing students with real-world training in state-of-the-art learning labs that use the latest industry standard equipment. We understand how important it is to match classroom learning with the field before students graduate and start their engineering careers.
Today, Blue Ridge offers degree options in electronics engineering, mechanical engineering, mechatronics engineering, and a transfer pathway into a B.S. in engineering. We also offer apprenticeship programs in the fast-paced field of mechatronics and, thanks to an update in community college policy, manufacturing continuing education credits that can transfer as curriculum credits.
MEET ALUMNUS JUAN PARRA
Juan Parra always wanted to be an engineer. While attending North Henderson High School, however, he wasn’t sure if he would have the opportunity to study engineering in college because of affordability concerns and “engineering seemed so high-level.”
Parra enrolled at Blue Ridge, and after he earned an interpreter education associate degree and machinist certificate, Suess encouraged him to transfer to the mechanical engineering program to pursue his dreams.
He worked full-time while being a full-time student and graduated from Blue Ridge in 2015 with an associate’s degree in mechanical engineering technology.
In a mere four years, Parra left his career at Continental AG in Arden to run his own company, Legendary Industries, Inc. As a contractor, he was promoted to director of engineering at agrifacture in Hendersonville for his industrial process automation and engineering design expertise.
In addition to his full-time position, Parra served as an adjunct professor at Blue Ridge teaching basic and advanced PLC courses. Sounding quite similar to Mike Massimino’s words to our audience last week, he encouraged his students to never stop learning. Specifically as it relates to engineering, he shared this with his students: “No matter the obstacles, you will go further in life if you continue to learn.”
Blue Ridge Community College is committed to helping students like Juan overcome obstacles, build an entrepreneurial mindset, and prepare for the engineering careers of today and tomorrow. To learn more about our engineering programs, visit blueridge.edu/engineering.
Laura B. Leatherwood is president of Blue Ridge Community College.