Note: The following story appears in the fall issue of Hindsight alumni magazine. For more information about the Hinds Alumni Association, see the website.

RAYMOND – Phil Cockrell has struck when the iron was hot, so to speak, many times in his professional career.

These days, the material he works with is more plastic than iron and his equipment is actually the “coolest” on campus.

Phil Cockrell, inside the Fab Lab (Hinds Community College/April Garon)
Phil Cockrell, inside the Fab Lab (Hinds Community College/April Garon)

Cockrell, a Magee native and Brandon resident, instructs courses in the Engineering and Drafting Design Technology program. He’s also the director of the Fab Lab on the Raymond Campus, which opened in August. He says it’s a place where students, faculty, industry and the public alike can, as Cockrell puts it, “Imagine, design and build.”

“It’s for prototyping products for any number of purposes, and it’s open to students, faculty and the public,” Cockrell said. “Theoretically, you could come up with an idea for a product and patent it, as teenagers in similar labs in other states have done.”

Located in the Vocational Technical Building A, the lab is outfitted with 3-D printing machines, laser cutters and related equipment capable of etching designs or cutting flat sheet material such as acrylic and metal. The resulting prototypes are limitless – from small trinkets such as a cartoon character’s crown to a full 3-D reproduction of parts used in heavy industry and the human form itself.

Printing in 3-D involves programming a set of instructions into a central control panel or a separate computer, then loading the appropriate material – often forms of polyvinyl plastic – into a feeder line where the material is melted and flows through mechanical arms to “print” an object based on the instructions.

The lab was financed through the Predominantly Black Institutions Formula grant and is the first member lab in Mississippi of the U.S. Fab Lab Network, a group of 76 high schools, colleges, universities and businesses nationwide. An introductory non-credit course launched the lab in August 2017  for students while Cockrell began training instructors to become certified on the equipment.

A mechanical arm inside a 3D printer prints an object in the Fab Lab. (Hinds Community College/April Garon)
A mechanical arm inside a 3D printer prints an object in the Fab Lab. (Hinds Community College/April Garon)

All the heady technology has transformed what was once simply called drafting, said Cockrell, a former Simpson County sheriff’s deputy who switched careers to return to school at age 28.

“I was getting married and I wanted to make a career change,” he said. “I did some research, and drafting and design was getting to be a hot field. Hinds’ program had a really good reputation, so I got out of law enforcement and came back to school.”

Cockrell’s wife, Rebecca, graduated from the Associate Degree Nursing program at Hinds and is Learning Lab/Clinical Placement coordinator at the Jackson Campus-Nursing/Allied Health Center.

He earned an Associate of Applied Science degree in Drafting and Design Technology, graduating summa cum laude. It was a line of work that was changing along with the world itself, as the Internet opened new possibilities.

“Technology made things easier,” he said. “Instead of working out a set of house plans by hand, I could sit at a computer and do a set of house plans in a fraction of the time. I could manipulate it a lot easier on a computer than by hand.

“As a student, I was well-prepared for the industry, as I worked part-time doing small parts for air conditioning systems and in construction,” he said. “Eventually, I was able to take a building, design it, estimate it and project-manage it. Hinds prepared me to do that.”

His instructors took note of his skill set when the time came to launch his second career.

“Phil was always a class leader, the first to volunteer for outside projects and excelled in his coursework,” said Cindy West, dean of Career and Technical Education for the Raymond Campus and Cockrell’s instructor for Drafting and Design. “Phil’s name was always at the top of my ‘short list’ of former students to call in the event there was ever an open instructor position.”

While the Cockrells vacationed in late 2007, and after he contemplated going to nursing school, a position indeed came open and his teaching vocation began.

“I enjoy the classroom setting, especially watching students as they start to get the concept. That’s a joy.”

[tweetable alt=””]Hinds CC instructor drafts new career as Fab Lab director[/tweetable]      

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