MTSU, Motlow College and the Tennessee College of Applied Technology at Murfreesboro are expanding facilities and programs to prepare students for in-demand jobs.
From advanced degrees to high-tech industrial training, higher education institutions throughout Rutherford County are expanding their academic programs and facilities to meet growing demand among students pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
A new $175 million science building at Middle Tennessee State University will open in January 2015, and university leaders estimate that 80 percent of students will take at least one class in the facility. The three-story, 250,000-square-foot building will house nursing, pre-med, physical and occupational therapy departments, among others.
“This will triple our space on campus for science education,” says Andrew Oppmann, MTSU vice president for marketing and communications. “We also have other capital projects going on, such as a $3.7 million indoor tennis facility and a $16 million student services building.”
The university has also added new degree programs, Oppmann says, including a degree in mechatronics engineering that teaches students to program and operate robots in industrial settings. MTSU is partnering with Motlow State Community College, Nissan North America Inc., Bridgestone Americas and other industries to provide this training.
“Many jobs are waiting for engineers to design and enhance robotics and automated systems,” Oppmann says. “MTSU provides that training.”
New Technology Degrees
Also expanding is Motlow College, which opened a new Science-Technology-Allied Health building on its Smyrna Center campus in 2013. The 35,000-square-foot, two-story building houses classrooms, labs, offices, a student success center and lounges for students and staff.
Motlow also recently debuted two-year degrees in information systems technology and office information technology.
“We try to hit all the avenues that companies need these days,” says Terry Durham, information systems technology faculty member. “I work with several businesses in La Vergne and Smyrna to make sure we are teaching in the classroom exactly what they need in the work environment.”
Donna McKoon, chairperson of the Motlow business and technology department, also met with several business and community leaders in late 2013 to discuss and promote the college’s business department. Those conversations resulted in the college hosting its first-ever job fair in March 2014, McKoon says.
Meeting Workforce Needs
The Tennessee College of Applied Technology at Murfreesboro offers dozens of programs in allied health, along with popular curriculum options such as auto mechanics, machine tooling, industrial maintenance, and heating and air conditioning, in addition to new programs in graphic design and Web development technology.
“We have high placement rates because students have proven themselves in the classroom, and TCAT puts students into good working situations with good pay and advancement once they leave our institution,” says Lynn Kreider, TCAT director. “Our students average $15 to $30 per hour starting pay, and our programs take four to 16 months to complete, depending on area of study.”
TCAT is also in the early stages of constructing a new campus in Smyrna on 22 acres across from the Nissan plant.
“The new campus will triple our enrollment,” Kreider says. “More than half of our coursework is in industrial maintenance training, and we’ve provided customized training for area industries such as Nissan, Amazon and the Saks Incorporated distribution center. There are a lot of industrial maintenance positions available in the workforce to fix conveyor belts, program numeric controllers, update bar code readers and more. TCAT provides that education.”
Working With High Schools
With the huge demand locally for workers to fill industrial positions, the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce is working with MTSU, Motlow and TCAT-Murfreesboro, as well as Rutherford County Schools and Murfreesboro City Schools, to implement high school programs to help fill that gap. For example, 16 industrial career pathways are under way at Rutherford County’s 10 high schools.
“The state now requires all high school graduates to have three years of a career-track education,” says Beth Duffield, vice president of workforce development for the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce. “Students don’t necessarily have to follow their career pathway once they graduate, but this at least gets them thinking about the future and the high-demand jobs that are available.”
Pathway examples include a new mechatronics program at Oakland High School and a program at Siegel High School that allows students to earn credits while enrolled in industrial maintenance courses at TCAT.
“Advanced manufacturing, health care, IT, logistics and warehousing – the demand to fill these positions is very high,” Duffield says. “We want young students thinking early about all the choices they have.”