Barely had the ink dried on the Tennessee Higher Education Commission’s approval of the Middle Tennessee State University mechatronics engineering program when things began to stir in the university’s engineering technology department.
Telephones began ringing and emails began coming in to the offices of department chair Walter Boles and faculty member Ahad Nasab less than 24 hours after the late July approval.
“It’s, quite honestly, a game-changer,” said industry partner Jimmy Davis, owner of The Davis Groupe, who is a member of the Engineering Technology Advisory Board. “Now, MTSU is a true engineering school. They have a true engineering degree. The engineering technology department is taking it to the next level.”
His company supplies machinery, tools and parts to clients that include Toyota and General Motors, among others.
Mechatronics is a design process that includes a combination of mechanical, electrical, control and computer programming. The mechatronics engineering program is based on a three-level international certification program created by Siemens AG, a German engineering company.
An example of a mechatronic system is a surgical robot, which performs precision mechanical work under sophisticated electronic and sensory control.
There is a high demand for skilled workers to maintain and repair mechatronic systems.
Some 50 to 100 students are expected to be in the program by the end of the fall semester.
Presently, 595 undergraduate and 25 graduate students are enrolled in engineering technology, which is one of 10 departments in the College of Basic and Applied Sciences.
MTSU alumnus and state Sen. Bill Ketron has a unique perspective of this new program from being a small-business owner and a member of the board.
“It fills a niche that a lot of students have not been able to fill because it was never available,” he said.
The new program garnered support from the community and worldwide. Collaborators include Motlow State Community College, Rutherford County Schools, elected officials and the industry, including Nissan North America Inc., Bridgestone Americas Tire Operation and others.
Ketron said the economic impact will be significant.
“Once we start training these young people and the industries and manufacturing concerns realize there’s a good, trained and educated workforce for their needs, they’ll start locating here or not even think about pulling up and moving to some other location,” he said.