Meeting demand New River Community College educates students on technology’s cutting edge
Business and Technologies Dean Peter Anderson and John Somervell, assistant professor of machine technology, with NRCC’s Mini Mill, an important tool in the school’s advanced manufacturing program.
by Sandra Brown Kelly
he robot in the mini-mill at New River Community College is an impressive testimony to advanced manufacturing. It automatically loads raw material, manipulates it as needed and produces an end product — a business card holder embossed with the college’s name. This $300,000 manufacturing automation cell is a centerpiece for the college’s Preparation for Makers in Advanced Manufacturing program. It began in fall 2013 with a course in “Industrial Robotics Programming.” NRCC installed the machine in what’s called a makerspace, the term for a place where people of like interests can gather to learn. The space is open to anyone who wants to know more about advanced manufacturing, says Peter Anderson, dean of the Division of Business and Technologies and an
NRCC graduate. The program and the machine are just the latest in a continuing quest by this rural college to be the go-to place for technology. The college has purchased more than 30 small-desk 3-D printers to be used in the tech-related courses offered at its Dublin and New River Valley Mall campuses. Printers also will be installed in the library. Last fall, NRCC offered its first course in Preparation for Makers in Advanced Manufacturing. Years ago the college became one of two schools to offer a program in instrumentation. In addition to its focus on advanced manufacturing, the school’s immersion in alternative energy is obvious in the view from Anderson’s office in Edwards Hall. On the grounds are two wind turbines along with a bank of solar panels
that automatically track the sun. This alternative energy park gives students experience in using the various motors and controls that operate the turbines and solar panels and supplies 10 percent of the power to Edwards Hall. Graduates of the instrumentation program – and of the other technology areas – are in great demand, Anderson says. “We have two to three companies a week recruiting our students.” The recruiters come from local companies, but also from elsewhere in Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee. “New River has a reputation for educating people for current and future job positions,” says Peter Botton, a New River graduate and projects engineer for ESS Technologies of Blacksburg, which manufactured the mill’s robot. The school has a strong relaPhotos courtesy New River Community College