MSC Southeast student’s interests lead to major in mechatronics
Growing up in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Jacob Montoya's family felt that his local school wasn't providing him with enough challenges. Just before he started middle school, they moved to Winona so he could have the advantages of the public school system in Minnesota.
"There was a big gap in the curriculum when I began school here. A lot of the students were about a year ahead of where I was," Jacob said. "I had to make up a lot of understanding. It made the first couple of years hard."
Since then, he has more than closed the gap. Next spring, Jacob will graduate from Minnesota State College Southeast with a 2-year associate of science degree in mechatronics technology. He is well positioned to find employment in a field that he expects to expand.
But what exactly is mechatronics? It's practical, hands-on training in mechanics, electronics and computer programming to support automation systems and computer-controlled equipment.
Or, as MSC Southeast Director of Trade and Technology Calvin Clemons explained it, "Mechatronics technicians play a vital role building, installing, and maintaining complex automated systems across multiple industry sectors."
"The way things are going, it will keep growing as we integrate more technology into the way things are produced," Jacob said.
In middle school Jacob was involved in the Miller Mentoring program and worked with a college age mentor. There he learned "soft" skills that continue to benefit him today.
"My mentor helped me with getting on top of my assignments, staying organized," said Jacob. "I learned excellent time management skills. And it was a good way to connect with other students."
Like most kids, Jacob liked to play with Legos, which evolved into an interest in engineering. When a high school friend recommended joining the Winona Robotics team, it was a natural fit.
"Our team participated in First Robotics Challenge, which sounds like battle bots, but it really isn't. Every year they reveal a new game that has certain objectives your team has to complete, like putting a ball in a bin or tipping a scale a certain way. Then you get a few weeks to build your robot and bring it to competitions," Jacob explained.
Coming to MSC Southeast, Jacob was awarded a two-semester workforce development scholarship. "I was fortunate to find an opportunity to continue pursuing my interest in robotics after high school," he said.
The mechatronics program at MSC Southeast has been growing with the purchase and installation of new training equipment, supported by state grants and private donations from local industry.
Instructor Andy George anticipates the college soon will be among the leading mechatronics programs in the state. "We started last year with hydraulics-pneumatics trainers, mechanical drive trainers, basic industrial controls trainers, and basic PLC (programmable logic controller) trainers," he said.
New equipment coming into the program includes advanced PLC stations and a robotic arm that can be programmed to perform a variety of complex, multi-axes tasks.
"With the equipment and capabilities we are adding, we will be in a position to teach the most current, modern, cutting-edge technology," Andy said. "And we will be changing in the future to add more technologies to keep up with what people in the field need to know."
In his final semester next spring, Jacob will have the opportunity to unleash his creative and technical skills in a capstone project.
Andy George explains, "The project must have at least two axes of motion; it has to have a touch screen to control it; and it must be built so that anyone can walk up to it and make it run without a manual. The students will have to build it from the ground up and wire it to run. It must have mechanical, electrical, programming, and motion components."
Jacob is just starting to think about his capstone, but it might involve cookie cutters. A machine that can cut out cookies doesn't sound very complicated. But that's not what he means.
"No," he says. "More like a robot that can make cookie cutters!"
When he graduates next spring -- just shy of his 20th birthday -- Jacob Montoya will be ready to begin employment in a high demand, high paying field that he finds fascinating.
"By finding the mechatronics program at MSC Southeast, I hope I will be able to turn my hobby into a career," he says.
If you are interested in enrolling in this new high technology program, contact admissions representative Chris Cook at 507-453-2410 or Christopher.Cook@southeastmn.edu.