Rise of the Robots: Cutting edge tech education at BCCC

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Conventional wisdom would have it that manufacturing is a dying industry in the U.S. And, while old-school assembly lines have shed many jobs over the past decade, the industry is reinventing itself with the help of high technology. As a result, the field of robotics is set to expand through the next several years.

In fact, many sectors of the economy are hungry for a workforce trained in robotics, electronics, and other technical skills. Through the Robotics Technology Program at BCCC, students can delve into cutting edge automatic manufacturing and prepare for a well-paid career in this dynamic field.

Super Technicians

In two years, students can graduate with an Associate of Applied Science degree and immediately enter the workforce as Super Technicians qualified to work as robotics, electronics, automation, manufacturing, and computer programming technicians. BCCC robotics students can also transfer to Morgan State University or Capitol College for a bachelor’s degree in an engineering field.

BCCC boasts a state-of-the-art robotics lab that features real industrial robots. “A student who comes to the lab can learn the whole field and get firsthand experience and training with our robots,” says Dr. Yun Liu, a professor of mathematics who directs the Robotics program.

“These are not like robots you see in movies like Terminator,” he explains. “Robots in industry simulate human activity, and help with the dirty, dangerous, and tedious work: painting cars, transporting materials, and many manufacturing jobs.

“A robot is just like a newborn baby,” says Liu. “It doesn’t know what to do until the human technician ‘teaches’ it. Students learn how to maintain robots in the manufacturing fields, how to clean them, change batteries, program, and troubleshoot them.”

The Robotics program was recently updated to include a mechatronics component. “This move was made to ensure our program is keeping pace with industry trends,” says Math and Engineering Professor Michael Kaye. “BCCC is unique among community colleges offering a Robotics program.”

“You can’t find another lab like this in Maryland, D.C., or Delaware,” notes Liu. “We’re the only college to offer such a robotics program.” Small class sizes and enthusiastic faculty add to the unparalleled learning environment at BCCC.

High demand

This pays off for graduates, who have had great placement rates since 2010, when the Robotics program began at BCCC. “Even though Baltimore may not be known as a manufacturing ‘hub,’” Liu notes, “as long as we’re making things, we need machines.”

“I have had students who went into the food industry,” he adds. “A former student works at a bread company; the bread is almost entirely made by machine. At Coca-Cola, which hired another student, all the canning is done by machines. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority – Metro – has hired robotics students.”

“These types of jobs have starting salaries of $40K to $50K, right out of community college,” he said.

“As more and more of our society becomes automated,” Professor Kaye adds, “companies desperately need people who are skilled and trained in the areas of electronics, manufacturing, computer programming, and robotics. We have partnerships with local industries and our students have been able to secure internships and full-time employment.”

Are you a good fit?

High-tech careers take certain personal and professional qualities, like a knack for problem-solving and computer savvy.

A student who is responsible and ready to take on complex problems will excel in Robotics. “They have to be patient, and spend time on the subject,” Liu explains. “To learn technology, especially in a hands-on way, you need to be both responsible and patient, because things are not always going to go your way. Machines break down. You can’t get mad; you have to take your time to solve problems.”

Kaye emphasizes that students should take their math classes seriously. “Math provides the foundation upon which the robotics field is built.  Students need to be strong in algebra and geometry.”

Contrary to what you might think, a high-level degree is not a prerequisite to get into high-tech fields. “It’s not always necessary to get an engineering degree to work in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) industries,” says Liu. “Two-year schools also enable students to work in the STEM industries, and make a decent salary. In the past few years, the industry has realized that a student doesn’t need a bachelor’s degree to be prepared to work in the field.”

Scholarship opportunities

Robotics students are eligible to apply for admission to BCCC’s prestigious STEM Scholars Program.

There they can receive scholarship funds and participate in many extra-curricular activities, such as visiting local industries and universities, mentoring high school robotics teams, organizing math awareness activities during Math Awareness Month (April), and attending conferences.

For more information about the Robotics Program, call 410-462-7631.

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