I’ve been covering the manufacturing industry as a journalist for more years than I’d like to admit, so when someone tells me about something new in the industry, my usual thought is, “We’ll see.” Of course, there is a lot of new technology and things change in manufacturing, but I can’t usually say “Wow, that really surprised me.”
So when I got an invitation to visit the new “MTEC” space at Richard J. Daley College, a public, two-year community college, I figured it would be another institution with a somewhat interesting manufacturing technology program. Don’t get me wrong. Community colleges do a great job of teaching vital manufacturing technologies such as welding and machining, but they usually look and feel like machine shops, which makes sense.
Then I walked into the new advanced manufacturing and engineering facility at the college on South Pulaski Road in Chicago and literally said, “Wow, this is amazing.” The rest of our group from SME said much the same thing. There’s a light-filled, atrium-like lobby; a colorful, welcoming common space where people can gather; spacious, well-lit and well-equipped labs and classrooms; and a dramatic “high-bay” manufacturing floor, with open space two stories high and large windows that allow natural light to illuminate row after row of machines. It also lets people driving or walking by the facility see what’s happening inside. The building is practical, functional, and, dare I say it, beautiful. It is simply a magnificent space.
Our group met with some of the people heading up the MTEC program: Dr. Eduardo Garza, interim president of the college, David Girzadas, dean of engineering and advanced manufacturing, and Webb Hicks, professor of advanced manufacturing. We were impressed with the passion these gentlemen had for manufacturing, their understanding of what it will take to fill the skills gap, and their commitment to bring more people into manufacturing through their educational programs.
The 57,000-sq-ft MTEC, which cost $45 million, is still new, having just opened in January. While much of the equipment is installed and a semester of classes have taken place, equipment is still being set up and instructors being certified on it. But big things are happening. There are dozens of new robots, welding units, fabrication devices, and machine tools. As one of the instructors said of MTEC, “There’s nothing else like it.”
Even more impressive is the creative approach the college is taking to reach potential students. In addition to recruiting at local high schools, the college offers night classes for working students, reaches out to recent immigrants through ESL programs, partners with community groups to present customized learning on weekends, and more. If I were a student and saw and experienced this facility, I would say, “Wow, maybe the manufacturing industry is for me.” And maybe that’s the whole point of this amazing new facility. Look for a longer feature on MTEC in ME later this year.