“I used to jokingly say, ‘Are we teaching history or are we teaching technology?’” said Gentry, an assistant professor and the technology department chair at Cleveland State.
Many hours have gone into renovating the technology department. Every decision was made through the lens of industry. Gentry and his colleagues have chosen the best tools to equip their students for the workforce.
“Our students could very easily walk out of here with an electromechanical degree and go into TVA’s program with a starting salary of $45,000 to $50,000 a year,” Gentry said.
A $45,000 starting salary is more than others receive in Tennessee. The average starting salary for some professionals in Tennessee are: $32,000 for teachers; $20,000 to $50,000 for registered nurses; and $28,500 for pharmacy technicians.
“My fear is a lot of people in the community do not know the capability we have here,” Gentry said. “... We have really changed and evolved the programs here over the last four years.”
Pamphlets for various robots cover Gentry’s desk. In the corner sits measuring equipment packed in boxes. Plastic models from a 3D printer sit on the desk. These are all a part of the plan to provide tools in the laboratory for all students.
Gentry readily discusses the tools he has in mind for the department: robots, an electromechanical assembly line, and plasma cutters to name a few. These items will be going into various rooms in the department. The $2.5 million project includes a building currently under constuction. It will connect to the end of the department and should be finished by mid-September. Half of the money will go toward the building and the other half is to provide tools, instructors, and furnishings.
“We have purposefully modeled the building after the industry look,” Gentry said. “A lot of stuff will be exposed and opened. There will be plenty of windows to provide natural light and allow passersby to see what we are working on.
“Students will go from using basic robotics in front of the room to using machines with robots to building systems that will assemble items.”
Robotics is the golden word of the technology department. Industries are using robotics and Gentry wants his students to be prepared.
“We’ve done a little bit with robotics, but we are really trying to expand that. We want to look at how industries are using automatic manufacturing to produce parts, to assemble pieces, etc. We will have that capability in the new building,” Gentry said.
The department offers a variety of degrees and technical certificates. Degrees offered include: general technology, computer information technology, chemical process technology, drafting and design, and electro-mechanical. Technical certificates offered include: climate control, mechanical maintenance fundamentals, electrical maintenance fundamentals, and technology essentials.
“The engineer needs the four-year degree and they are important and wonderful, but you need those technicians that know how to use their math and science skills,” Gentry said. “They need to understand how the technology works and how to draft and design.”
Gentry said he works closely with the Career and Technical Education heads at the local high schools. Meetings are used to discuss dual enrollment courses and similarities between existing courses. Both parties agree the general public’s view of industry is outdated.
“Students hear what we tell them on one hand, and on the other, they have their parents saying, ‘I want my children to do something better or different from what I did,’” Gentry said. “They still have the vision of industry being a dirty, smoky job and it’s not.”
According to Gentry, the “industry of today” is a thinking man’s profession.
“A technician’s job is to observe and think and respond and report. ... There are a variety of things to do. It’s really using all of your skills and knowledge to keep the process moving,” Gentry said.
For more information, visit the Cleveland State website at www.clevelandstatecc.edu.