Connecting the Classroom to the Field
Addition of a new Topcon 3D laser scanner keeps a progressive Tennessee college program at the fore of technology
In Russell White’s classroom, education is anything but an ivory tower.
“Industry really drives education,” says the Tennessee-based CAD instructor, “and if industry stakeholders are not a part of it, well that technology is going to lag behind in the educational system. If you’ve got a really involved community and industry that are both looking to better our community by educating the people who live here, then you’ve got a well-rounded system. Industry partners up with us in education and says, ‘If you have someone trained properly, we can put them to work.’”
Thanks to White’s workforce connections, the Drafting and CAD Technology Program at the Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) campus in Shelbyville is increasingly well-rounded all the time. Most recently, thanks to incentives provided by technology leader Topcon via local dealer Hayes Instrument Co., TCAT Shelbyville added a Topcon GLS-2000 compact high-speed 3D laser scanner.
“Coming from the industry into education, it really allowed me to see there is a need for change in how we educate our CAD drafters,” says White, SI, CSWP, who joined the TCAT Shelbyville staff in November, 2012. “Actually, we’re making a push to get away from the term ‘drafter’ and into ‘CAD technician,’ because technology has advanced so much with the survey equipment, scanning equipment and 3D printing that there is a lack of certification or competency out there.”
The TCAT Shelbyville program is an intense one comprised of many moving parts. The students are with White continually in an atmosphere not unlike the working world — under one roof but in different disciplines and at different stages. “The students come to class 30 hours a week. It’s five days a week for six hours a day, so it’s not your traditional post-secondary education,” White explains.
Students complete the program in four trimesters — specializing in architectural, civil, mechanical or structural drafting as they progress — and they continually turn over resulting in the full range of first- to fourth-trimester students in class at once. “They’ll spend 1,728 contact hours in total in here, so there’s plenty of time for them to diversify in software as well as equipment, and then learning how to produce and present the data. That’s the key,” says White, a 26-year industry veteran. “I break them down into teams, and the veteran students always help the newer students. I try to create that office environment in here. I tell them, ‘This is what you’re going to face. Get into that project, learn as much as you can, make the deliverable, meet your timing.’ ”
The TCAT Shelbyville program has an industry craft advisory board consisting of two mechanical engineers, two electrical engineers, a civil engineer, a Professional Land Surveyor (PLS) and two members of the alumni. With such input, White is continually looking at ways to improve the program, including adding a new core competency this year focused on professionalism and ethics. “Those soft skills are hard to teach,” he says, “but if you plant the seed and make the students practice it, maybe it’ll grow into something integral.”
When the Topcon laser scanner arrived at TCAT Shelbyville, fellow students and good friends Percy Jenkins and Dustin Floyd were just wrapping up their fourth trimesters focused on civil drafting and CAD technology. Along with White, each was busily learning the new equipment and how it will be applied for future students and projects.
“It’s such as advancement,” says Jenkins, a Marine Corps. veteran who arrived at TCAT Shelbyville with extensive experience as a land surveyor. “If you’re doing a topo, instead of going out there and taking shots every so often, you set the scanner up and it scans a 300-foot swath, and all you have to do is go manipulate the point cloud, clean it up and you have your topo. It cuts out a lot of time and can save a lot of money.”
Floyd, who has plans to become a civil engineer, likewise started out at TCAT Shelbyville painstakingly setting up instruments and equipment by hand. “This is definitely going to make it easier for the next crew,” says the Shelbyville resident. “For the students in future classes, when they get into civil drafting, they are going to have a lot better understanding of what’s in front of them. They’ll have a lot more to work with.”
Much as White emphasizes from the industry education side, Jenkins sees a practical reason behind the push for up-to-date equipment. “It’s good to be on the forefront when it comes to technology,” says the resident of Murfreesboro, Tenn. “That way, you’re more valuable when you go out into the workforce. It’s job security against the down times.”
That is music to the ears of White, who has a strong mandate at TCAT Shelbyville that includes 70-percent student retention, 60-percent student course completion and, upon their graduation, 70-percent professional placement. “If we don’t keep those percentages up, then the program goes under probation and I’ve got 16 months to get it back to where it needs to be,” he says. “So, it really forces me to stay connected in the industry. That’s the key — the partnerships.”
Professional stakeholders have told White they need employees who know drafting standards, possess competency in a diverse range of software, have earned certification in new technologies such as 3D scanning, and have developed the “soft skills” such as ethics.
“With the addition of new equipment, and as money continues to come in, I’m going to continue to create curriculum to show how it can be used in all four areas of specialization we cover. A lot of people look at the GLS-2000 and say, ‘Ah, that can’t be used for mechanical.’ Well, sure it can. We can get inside of a piping room and scan it out,” says White, “and start designing new pipes to develop.
“Having these tools for the students to learn about and learn with is definitely a good way to show that they are a better value for the workforce.”
Adrian Franklin can only smile.
Himself a PLS, Franklin is a sales rep for Hayes Instrument, a Shelbyville institution that has a rich legacy in supplying and supporting Topcon equipment, both prior to and since its 2007 merger with fellow southern company Earl Dudley, Inc.
“When I was in college, unfortunately we didn’t have some of the latest and greatest technology,” he says. “Back when I was in school, GPS was new. My school couldn’t afford it, even though it was a four-year accredited college.” Bridging the equipment gap, Topcon has developed a strong educational program universally that Hayes Instrument is only pleased to support locally, says Franklin. “You’ve got to learn the basics and you’ve got to learn the foundation of surveying,” he explains, “but learning the new technology is also very important, because you’re going to go out to the real world and that’s what you’re going to use. You’re not going to pull a chain. You’re going to use a total station or a GPS or a scanner to collect all your data.”
As soon as he learned he had funding for new equipment, White honed in on the Topcon GLS-2000.
“A short-range scanner doesn’t the fit the bill for all four areas of our curriculum.” It’s a decision that resulted in instant gratification. “We love this new Topcon long-range scanner,” he says, noting the compact device’s:
- scanning range up to 350 meters that still allows for extreme short-range scanning when needed
- direct HI measurement feature, thanks to an exclusive laser plummet function
- full-dome field-of-view (360 degrees horizontal and 270 degrees vertical) for capturing point cloud data in closed-in areas
- intuitive software that recognizes features and common points between two scans and meshes them together
“Even if your battery dies,” says White, “you can leave the scanner set up, go charge your battery, put it back in and it will pick up that scan exactly where it left off, even if it’s moved.”
For TCAT Shelbyville upper management, the addition of the Topcon GLS-2000 offers an additional windfall beyond the benefit to the students’ curriculum. With pending expansion to an adjacent building, as well as parking lot repaving project looming, there are on-campus projects tailor-made for the equipment — with an eager workforce itching to get at it. “It’s all about the students,” says White. “If they’re not doing the hands-on here, then they’re not the ones getting the jobs. I’ve got a job; my job is to train them.
“And the thing about it is, by the time they hit third and fourth trimester, they are training me,” he says. “That’s the synergy of education.”
Mike Anderson, editor of POB, loves nothing more than to get away from the office and out to where real work is happening. Got a story for POB readers? Anderson always welcomes your suggestions and feedback via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.