Industry leaders and others in higher education joined MTSU officials in celebrating the awarding of a $614,000-plus National Science Foundation grant to recruit qualified female and minority applicants for the mechatronics engineering program.
MTSU held the celebration April 20 in the MT Center in the Sam H. Ingram Building on Middle Tennessee Boulevard.
The focus of the $614,172 National Science Foundation award is to increase numbers, diversity, retention and graduation rates of students graduating from MTSU with a mechatronics engineering degree. At least 15 incoming freshmen students for each of the next three years will receive scholarship awards for up to $10,000.
Participation priority will be given to qualified female and minority applicants to meet the objective of increasing the percentage of these student populations. The mechatronics engineering program, which started in late August 2013, has grown to more than 125 students.
Along with partners who contributed to MTSU successfully being awarded the grant and the 18-month effort to secure the program that began in August 2013, university President Sidney A. McPhee led a trio of speakers praising the new grant and new effort to recruit females and minorities.
“This is a remarkable achievement,” McPhee said. “Any time the university is in a position to receive such a competitive award, it is something to be proud of.”
McPhee said MTSU is fortunate to have “opportunities to collaborate with Siemens, Bridgestone, the chamber of commerce and other companies that are a part of this incredible innovation of a new degree program (mechatronics),” he added. “This is what MTSU is about — being responsive to the need of our community and making sure we continue to be part of the solution … so they’ll have the workforce that’ll attract industry for the 21st century.”
Joining McPhee in sharing remarks were Bridgestone Americas corporate manager Keith Hamilton and professor Ahad Nasab, the MTSU coordinator of mechatronics engineering, one of the fastest-growing programs in the state.
“What a great day, one of many for MTSU. This has opened a lot of eyes across Tennessee,” Hamilton said. His message included the fact industry statewide needs 2,800 to 2,900 engineering graduates yearly while universities are producing 900 to 1,200.
“I want to speak about industry and how much this means to us in the business world,” he added. “To be able to look to MTSU for our needs in the future in the engineering area and not have to go out of this (region), much less out of state. I’m not going to throw water on the fire. I’m glad the fire’s going at MTSU.”
MTSU Engineering Technology Chair Walter Boles said celebration attendees “represent what’s great about mechatronics engineering. They come from all different education levels, from high school through community college. We have industry represented, and it shows the dynamics in place for all those constituencies.”
Saying MTSU mechatronics engineering “could and should serve as a national model” for such programs, Nasab said the scholarship award is a “big boost in doing what we’re doing much faster and attracting brighter and more accomplished students.”
McPhee, Boles and others praised the efforts of Tom Cheatham, director of the Tennessee STEM Education Center, for guiding the document process
Among those attending were Erin Ketelle, DRIVE! program manager with the University of Tennessee Institute of Public Service; Kent Wallace, director of physics laboratories at Fisk University in Nashville; and Paul Latture, president of the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce.
All wrote letters of support, with Ketelle’s and Wallace’s letters pushing for the NSF grant and Latture’s letter coming in the 2012-13 thrust to have the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and Tennessee Board of Regents approve the program.
MTSU is part of the state university and community college partnership in the DRIVE! for the Future, which has the goal of accelerating the development of a strong and growing automotive cluster in the Tennessee Valley, the fifth-largest region in the nation for auto industry employment.
— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)