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Weatherford College receives National Science Foundation robotics grant

The National Science Foundation has awarded Weatherford College an Advanced Technological Education grant in the amount of $299,856 to develop a program in industrial maintenance and automation technology (IMAT).

“This project will allow Weatherford College to serve as the catalyst between high school and four-year university studies in a very high-demand occupation,” said Hayden Harbold, principal investigator for the IMAT project. “Students can transfer technical dual credit from local high schools into the IMAT program.”

IMAT will initially be offered as non-credit courses as WC seeks approval from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, with those courses articulated to credit following SACS approval.

In their final semester, students will participate in an internship at a local manufacturing plant to develop on-the-job skills.

Ultimately, the IMAT project will offer an Associate of Applied Science in Engineering Technology—Industrial Automation Maintenance.

Students can then transfer their WC credits to Tarleton State University to complete a Bachelor of Applied Arts and Science in Manufacturing and Industrial Management.

“When you think of industrial maintenance, it is basically maintaining and repairing the automation equipment found in a manufacturing facility–such as hydraulics, pneumatics, PLC’s, robotics, etc.,” said Jerry Barrow, IMAT co-principal investigator. “Especially with the growth in robotics, the program will focus on robotics and automation maintenance, repair and programming.”

According to the Texas Workforce Commission’s North Central Texas Workforce Board the projected growth for industrial maintenance technicians is 35.5 percent through 2024 creating a significant demand for qualified industrial maintenance technicians.

Since 2012, there has been a 231 percent increase in total job demand for roles requesting robotics skills.

“I am extremely excited about this grant, bringing robotics and automation training to Weatherford College,” said Dr. Tod Allen Farmer, WC president. “Hayden Harbold and Jerry Barrow are part of an exceptional workforce team who are collectively changing lives and supporting our regional economic development in the process.”

WC administrators submitted the grant proposal in October 2018 after participating in a National Science Foundation mentoring program focused on grant writing. The competitive nature of the process results in less than 25 percent of grant proposals being funded.

The grant will fund more than $150,000 in equipment to build a state-of-the-art laboratory. The funding will also pay for professional development for instructors to offer students the most relevant and up to date material and curriculum delivery.

A selection of IMAT courses will be offered in the Fall 2019 semester with additional courses rolled out in phases over subsequent semesters. For more information, contact Barrow at 817-598-8933. Scholarships and tuition assistance are available.

There is also an advisory board for the IMAT project scheduled to meet in both the fall and spring semesters. To inquire about serving on this board, contact Harbold at 817-598-6302.

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