Mechatronics and automation lab offers nearly 5,000 square feet of instruction space

PEARL – Students at Hinds Community College Rankin Campus pursuing careers in high-demand technical fields have brand-new labs in which to learn cutting-edge skills.

Bryce Copeland, of Pearl, a Hinds Community College student, operates an ABV robot arm in the Rankin Campus Career and Technical Building during a program June 19 to dedicate the newly-renovated building. The arm and similar equipment are used to teach students in the Electromechanical Technology program. (Hinds Community College/April Garon)

The college unveiled its newly renovated Electromechanical Technology and Automation Lab during a brief program Wednesday, June 19. The combined 4,930 square feet of new space at the Career and Technical Building off Greenfield Road includes an expanded automation lab that house an array of specialized, computer-programmed equipment common on modern production lines.

“It’s been a wonderful experience to work with people here in Rankin County and local governments to see to fruition of the total facilities here,” Hinds President Dr. Clyde Muse said, adding the renovation also covered some existing space at the facility.

“This project not only added two labs, but a total renovation of the welding lab,” Muse said.

Programs in Electromechanical Technology, Robotics, Industrial Maintenance, Electrical, Welding and Mechatronics will benefit from the additional classroom at the building, among others.

“We’ve gone from a classroom for Industrial Maintenance to what you see today – that’s phenomenal,” said Sherry Franklin, associate vice president for Career and Technical Education. “Our students here can now stay at the Rankin Campus and complete their entire AAS degree in these particular programs.”

A closeup look at one of the mechatronics machines used as a teaching tool for students in the Electromechanical Technology program housed at Hinds Community College Rankin Campus Career and Technical Building (Hinds Community College/April Garon)

Dr. Chad Stocks, vice president for Workforce Development and Career and Technical Education, noted the show of support from the business community in the form of letters in favor of the project to the county.

“No one agency, no one partner, no one college or county supervisor, no one can handle workforce alone,” Stocks said. “It was each one of us and our respective agencies and partners coming together.”

Expansion of the building involved closing in and renovating previously unused space in the rear of the property. Funding sources on the project included additional property tax dedications via the Rankin County Board of Supervisors, totaling $800,000 in each of the next two years.

“The Rankin County Board of Supervisors considers itself in a strong, mutually beneficial partnership with Hinds Community College,” said Steve Gaines, president of the Rankin County Board of Supervisors. “We understand how important it is to have a well-educated, well-trained and well-rounded workforce for Rankin County.”

Another financing piece was a $1.2 million Challenge Grant from the Mississippi Community College Board.

“It will give us so much more opportunity for training programs and help people seek employment,” said Mary Powers, workforce director for Central Mississippi Planning and Development District.

“One area of concern that’s expressed by businesses is that we don’t have enough individuals going into the pipeline of employees for their future use. Hinds Community College is working very hard to try and fill that pipeline and doing an excellent job with it. Combined with federal workforce training dollars that help offset the cost for individuals to attend these training programs, I believe we’ll be able to fill the needs of employers,” Powers said.

The building has housed career-tech classes since 2009, after the college purchased it the year before. Additional programs offered there include Electrical, Welding, Plumbing Associate Degree Nursing and Practical Nursing. Built in 2002, the two-story, 40,000 square-foot building sits on five acres about five miles from the main Rankin Campus off Highway 80.

“Students are able to go from high school to sophomores in college in one year,” said Ira Singleton, Rankin Campus advisory board chairman, in reference to the CT building’s existence. “This has been a great thing that has happened and wouldn’t have happened had it not been for Hinds Community College. It’s beneficial for us all in Rankin County.”

The sight of futuristic robotic arms and machines used to program today’s manufacturing assembly lines will also help recruit businesses to Rankin.

“Hinds is such a wonderful partner for us in terms of workforce development and training needs,” said Regina Todd, associate director of Rankin First, the county’s economic development arm. “It’s especially the case when we’re trying to recruit new industries to the county. We’re hoping we can bring prospective new employers through this new mechatronics lab and see firsthand what kind of equipment Hinds is training students on.”

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