Students explore the science behind robotics, engineering and technology

By: Maria Allard | Warren Weekly | Published December 9, 2015

 Maddy Burke, a freshman from Anchor Bay High School, left, is assisted by Jenifer Seger, Macomb Community College associate dean, on the welding simulator during the annual Robotics, Engineering and Technology (RET) Days held at the South Campus of Macomb Community College in Warren.

Maddy Burke, a freshman from Anchor Bay High School, left, is assisted by Jenifer Seger, Macomb Community College associate dean, on the welding simulator during the annual Robotics, Engineering and Technology (RET) Days held at the South Campus of Macomb Community College in Warren.

Photo by Deb Jacques

WARREN — The annual Robotics, Engineering and Technology (RET) Days held at the South Campus of Macomb Community College continues to grow year after year.

Now in its 10th year, this year’s event on Dec. 2-3 gave approximately 3,100 middle and high school students the opportunity to perform hands-on activities in renewable energy, mechatronics, underwater robotics, solar power, 3-D printing, virtual welding and more. Electric vehicles were set up, and students could participate in an electric model vehicle race.

It also gave them a chance to meet professionals who work in robotics, engineering and technology, and hear what their jobs are really like. The event was held in the college’s Sports & Expo Center. Students came from metro Detroit and even as far as Genesee County and Benton Harbor.

Twelve centers, also known as pods, were lined up where business owners, employees and MCC staff set up various hands-on programs for students to explore. Lectures also were a large part of the activities. Each student had 23 minutes at each pod.

At one pod, for instance, part-time adjunct MCC teacher Roger Mousseau gave a welding presentation. Before coming to the college, Mousseau taught welding at the high school level for 36 years. He also has experience in blueprint reading. Three simulators were set up at the welding station for the students to try.

At another center, automotive clay modeling was a hands-on experience for the students to explore. At another spot, students operated remote-controlled vehicles that other high school students made over the summer.

Several Center Line High School students were among the attendees who checked out the various pods along with their teachers, including Donna Giacona and Mike Quinn. Giacona teaches the school’s Fanuc robot class and visual imaging, and Quinn teaches Fanuc CNC, computer programming, manufacturing and web design.

“This is a great experience for the kids because it gives them a real-life feel,” Quinn said. “There is so much here for these kids. The real-objective of a lot of this is to get them into a career.”

At CLHS, students in the Fanuc robot class can get certified.

“A Fanuc robot always looks the same,” Giacona said. “Fanuc robots take the place of dangerous and repetitive human jobs in manufacturing. (The students) learn to operate them and program them. The robots are in every field. There is a need for every industry. Automotive is one of the best examples.”

Giacona and Quinn are among the volunteers who mentor Center Line’s FIRST robotics team, which is an after-school club. The students build robots and compete with students from other schools. There is a regional competition, a state one and a world one. There are about 25 students in the Center Line robotics club, and the students meet after school on a regular basis.

RET Days was sponsored by Macomb Community College, along with its Center for Advanced Automotive Technology (funded by the National Science Foundation) and the Macomb Intermediate School District. Financial support came from Building America’s Tomorrow, American Axle, KUKA Systems, Oakland University, Genysis Credit Union and DASI.

Members of the college’s Engineering and Advanced Technology team coordinate the event, and planning for it occurs throughout the year.

“It’s designed to be hands-on,” said Joe Petrosky, dean of MCC’s Engineering and Advanced Technology Department. “We’re talking to the students but, more importantly, they’re doing hands-on. They still don’t know about the type of jobs that are available and what type of certification (they) need.”

According to information Petrosky presented from the National Association of Manufacturers, two-thirds of the current skilled trades workers will retire by the year 2030, and new employees will be needed to take their place in manufacturing, robotics, engineering and technology.

“They are good-paying jobs. They are good careers,” said Petrosky, citing the state’s economic decline in 2008. “Every industry has a cycle to it, but the future is looking bright.”