By SOFIA LYNCH
A team of faculty and administrators in a variety of departments – automotive, welding, motorcycle and business and computer technologies – are joining forces to bring Washtenaw to the forefront of educating and training in the transportation industry.
Brandon Tucker, interim dean of Advanced Technologies and Public Service Careers, led the team, which presented a proposal for the construction of an Advanced Transportation Center to the board of trustees at their Oct. 14 meeting.
When the college presents the capital outlay plan to the state on Nov. 1, it will ask the state for $12.5 million to fund the project, with the college matching half of that amount. The state will decide by the end of the year whether or not to fund it, Tucker said.
However, Washtenaw will push forward with the plan even if the state chooses not to appropriate the funds, President Rose Bellanca insisted.
“My philosophy is, don’t start something you’re not going to finish,” she said.
Washtenaw Community College would be unrivaled in training workers for this innovative field, according to Bellanca. And the school’s location and programs make it uniquely suited to become a leader in the industry.
Michigan is still the dominant force in automotive research and development in the country, said Mike Duff, chair of the Automotive Services Technology department, and that’s not isolated to Detroit. Ann Arbor is quickly becoming the nation’s leader in research and development around Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS), Tucker said.
ITS applies advanced communications technology and information, such as vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications, to modes of transportation, to improve safety and mobility, while reducing the environmental impact. With V2V communications, vehicles anonymously exchange information, such as speed or position, with other cars on the road to calculate risk and issue warnings to drivers. Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) communications are also being developed, Tucker said.
WCC’s proximity to major automotive engineering facilities, such as the U.S. EPA National Fuel and Emissions Laboratory, the Center for Automotive Research and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI), gives the college an advantage in the industry. The infrastructure of UMTRI Safety Pilot Project is being extended to the entire area of Ann Arbor, according to Neil Gudsen, program manager of WCC’s Business and Computer Technologies division.
ITS is the latest and largest development in the automotive industry, the presenters said, and people are throwing money into research and development worldwide. By bringing ITS training to WCC, a college already strong in the areas it entails, the school will set students up to be ahead of the game for future employment.
Projections suggest that 19,430 jobs will be created in this industry, said Shawn Deron, motorcycle instructor, adding that there are many jobs available right now.
There are two paths for students that the college should focus on, Tucker said. He hopes to form a “pipeline for transfers” to universities investing in ITS research and development and to train technicians.
“That’s where we want to rest our hat,” Tucker said.
“We have a unique opportunity here,” said Glenn Kay, a welding and fabrication instructor. “We have the capability to not only heed the call of the technological advances in welding and manufacturing, but our programs – which already produce nationally recognized welders – would be further renowned for the advanced skill sets they can attain.”
Cross-department collaboration is imperative to make this work, Kay said.
“Only through this combined effort, can we go beyond developing skilled welders and bridge, not one, but two very vital, high-demand gaps that reside in the welding and manufacturing industry today.”
This industry needs workers who are multi-faceted, Kay said, and that’s what this training will produce.
The Computer Information Systems department has been hard at work forming relationships with the local and federal departments of transportation and many of the key players involved in ITS, according to Gudsen. They have also begun the process of identifying faculty, equipment and software resources for an ITS-based curriculum, he said.
“This has been brewing for a very long time,” Gudsen said. And if WCC acts now, the college can lead the way into the future of transportation.
Additional reporting by Natalie Wright