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UNC Asheville Shows Off Mechatronics Program

From the Asheville Citizen-Times

UNC Asheville shows off mechatronics program

ASHEVILLE — When Patrick Herron graduates college in a couple of weeks, he’ll walk away with a degree in a futuristic-sounding specialty — mechatronics — from a program that’s on the cutting edge of University of North Carolina system’s offerings.

That’s because Herron’s undergraduate mechatronics engineering program is a joint curriculum that melds engineering training from N.C. State University and liberal arts teaching from UNC Asheville. It’s one of only two programs in the country accredited by ABET, a nonprofit, non-governmental organization that accredits science and engineering university programs. And it’s a unique example of two state university system colleges combining the best each has to offer to train college students in a hot field.

During a Tuesday morning tour, UNCA Chancellor Anne Ponder and other university officials showed off their program, its students and a sparkling new building to university system President Tom Ross and N.C. State Chancellor Randy Woodson.

“We’re working on re-engineering a variable-speed motor,” Herron said as the group walked through the renovated Rhoades/Robinson Hall complex that houses the mechatronics program.

Mechatronics, described as the integration of computer control into the operation of machinery, is a growing field that Herron said he’ll be excited to work in. He’s already got a job lined up at a Roanoke, Va., company working on similar motors.

UNCA and N.C. State developed the mechatronics program in 2002. Since then, 65 students have earned bachelor’s degrees. The joint-degree program is offered only at UNCA.

“This type of collaboration and cooperation is really the wave of the future,” Ponder said.

“It’s a way to leverage strengths of our university system in a curriculum that is complementary,” she said.

About 90 percent of the program’s graduates have jobs lined up before they graduate, said Joe Fahmy, director of engineering at UNCA who is listed as a N.C. State faculty member.

Future jobs in the mechatronics field will center on renewable energy and electrified transportation, he said. But more immediately, Asheville-area employers are snapping up graduates, he said.

Eaton Corp., which manufactures charging stations for electric cars at its Arden plant, has hired about 20 graduates, Fahmy said. Graduates have also landed jobs at Arvato Digital Systems, Baxter Healthcare, BAE Aerospace, Kearfott Guidance and Navigation, ArvinMeritor and Nypro Injection.

“The core of our program is in mechanical and electronic engineering, and computer science, with a liberal arts background,” Fahmy said, “and I think that’s the future of where engineering should be going.”

Rhoades Hall, home to the engineering program, was one of the first two buildings on UNCA’s campus when the school opened in 1961.

After a state appropriation of about $8.8 million, the complex has been remade into a state-of-the-art facility with a video teleconferencing room, an engineering research lab and a fabrication shop.