MILFORD — Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul visited the Otsego-Northern Catskills BOCES on Monday for a tour of the school’s new mechatronics lab.
The program is the first of its kind in the state, featuring robotics elements in addition to basic mechanics, according to instructor Nils Anderson.
“When you talk to people, they don’t realize what mechatronics is,” Anderson said. “But the need for it is there.”
Mechatronics encompasses several different fields, including manufacturing, defense systems, materials processing and the medical, aerospace and automotive industries, Anderson said, adding: “Some people call it blue-collar mechanical engineering.”
A remodel of the lab space, formerly used by the health occupation program, was finished over the summer, Anderson said, “so it was hard to show the students just what it was.”
The lab features dozens of work stations equipped with motor control, mechanical drive and electrical systems, as well as robotics and automation stations.
“This is what I’ve been asking for,” Hochul said.
The lab was funded in part by numerous grants from organizations including Empire State Development, the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York, with assistance from state Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, and former Assemblyman William Magee, D-Nelson; the Corning Incorporated Foundation and the Community Foundation for South Central New York, according to BOCES officials.
Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals donated a full-sized robot, and FANUC Robotics, Universal Robotics and Unitronics several other pieces of equipment, Anderson said.
“We’re trying to get a lot of industry involvement to make it as real-life as possible,” he said.
Anderson said he hopes to develop partnerships with many of the contributing sponsors, facilitating training and factory certifications for current employees alongside BOCES and SUNY Delhi students in exchange for the donated equipment.
“The local support from manufacturers has been awesome,” Anderson said. “We’re trying to tailor our program to meet their needs and get our students certified with their businesses right away.”
“I needed to see this in person,” Hochul said. “I heard about this — I heard that you’re doing extraordinary things here.”
Hochul, a Democrat, said officials from the Raymond Corporation told her during a tour of the *Greene facility earlier in the day that they eagerly anticipate students trained in such disciplines to fill 1,830 local positions.
*The 1,830 number reflects Raymond's total employment, not current openings, a company spokesperson said.
“I think that’s the beauty of what you’re doing here — you’re not training for jobs that may or may not be there, they’re sitting there now,” Hochul said. “These employers are begging for these.
“Having visited countless factory floors and talked to all these plant managers, they’re telling me to do whatever we can to get more people into these fields,” she said. “The jobs are waiting.”
While the inaugural mechatronics class only has four students, Anderson said the program has already drawn interest from some of the component districts that don’t ordinarily send many students for the career and technical education programs at BOCES.
Members of the robotics and electronics club at Charlotte Valley Central School recently visited the lab, Anderson said, and the school is preparing to welcome eighth- and 10th-graders from the 19 component districts for a tour.
“These are skills that employers are waiting for,” Hochul said. “We’re building an economy here, but it starts in classrooms like this.”
Last year, BOCES partnered with SUNY Delhi to offer robotics classes to students at the college, Anderson said; a partnership he said he hopes to continue this year with the mechatronics program.
Many of the SUNY Delhi students in the two- and four-year mechanics programs receive multiple job offers before graduation, according to Anderson.
“These are the students who are going to graduate and not have student debt, be able to get off their parents’ couch and be independent; have a good living wage and care for their families and continue to live here in the rural part of our state that has tremendous opportunity,” Hochul said. “And you’re an important part of this.
“Let your children come into a program like this at BOCES and work with their hands and their mind,” Hochul said. “More young people should find their way into rooms like this.”
Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.
* Updated at 11:39 a.m. Nov. 27 to the correct location of the Raymond plant and clarify the employment numbers.