14:49 PM

Manufacturing programs at WCTC adapt during coronavirus pandemic


Since spring 2020, Waukesha County Technical College manufacturing programs, like most other programs at the College, had to adapt quickly to changing circumstances due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Online course simulation materials once considered “nice to have” became “need to have,” said Mike Shiels, dean of WCTC’s School of Applied Technologies. And, in the process of implementing online courses and supplementing practical learning with virtual simulators -- for programs such as Automation Systems Technology and Metal Fabrication among others, Shiels said many benefits have emerged as these innovative learning tools have been used.

“We’ve invested quite a bit of money in technology that has allowed us to do some really good hands-on simulated activities,” Shiels said. “There’s a very strong alignment between the virtual simulation and the work students do when they get back into the labs,” he said, noting that as the pandemic has continued on, most classes now feature both an in-person and lab component.

Additionally, faculty can customize the simulations to coordinate with specific lessons. “Some of the virtual simulators allow instructors to insert problems or faults into the system, so not only are the students working through projects, they’re also troubleshooting,” Shiels said.

New programs begin

In addition to modifying existing programs during the pandemic, the College also launched two new programs in fall: a Construction Management associate degree and an Electricity technical diploma, designed as one- and two-year programs, respectively.

Both programs have garnered a lot of interest, Shiels said, and they began with full cohorts of students.

Maximizing spaces, utilizing new robots

Thanks to an expansion within Integrated Manufacturing Center and the addition of three new classrooms, faculty have been able to spread out equipment -- and students -- for safe social distancing. The College provided $1.3 million in funds toward new robotic equipment, including an automated manufacturing cell, mobile industrial robots and collaborative robots, which are being used by program students and those in the workforce for customized training.

“With companies investing more in automation and with the need for employees to have higher skill sets in these areas, people need to understand how to program and repair that equipment. We continue to educate our students so they are ready to work on all of these automated systems,” Shiels said.