Located in Long Beach, California, Long Beach City College (LBCC) is a two-year community college with more than 30,000 enrolled students on two campuses. A MATE Center educational partner since 2003, LBCC uses marine technology as a way to provide students with learning experiences that can be applied to a broad number of technical fields.
LBCC’s Electrical Technology Department is primarily an industrial electrical program that attracts both recent high school graduates and re-entry students who are interested in new careers. Students can earn a 45-unit associate’s degree or a certificate in electrical technology. According to department chair Scott Fraser, students build and maintain ROVs to learn a variety of electrical skills that can be applied across a variety of disciplines. “Basic electrical and mechanical skills are critical in the marine environment,” he says. “Our students are skilled enough to maintain and repair instruments or technology on a ship, or they can work in any other jobs where electrical skills are needed.”
Robots in the Classroom
The MATE Center’s ROV competition is one of the cornerstones of the department’s three-part series of classes on robotics technology. In the first semester of the program, students learn about important principles such as ceiling depth, buoyancy, and ballast. In addition, they discuss possible ROV designs and work with industrial terrestrial robots. “The second semester is when we get the specifications for the ROV competition,” says Fraser. “Once we have the specs, we get busy with building, designing, and testing the ROV.”
"Our students are skilled enough to maintain and repair instruments or technology on a ship, or they can work in any other jobs where electrical skills are needed"
Initially, students learn specific electronics and mechanical skills using terrestrial robots. For example, in one class, students are building a robot-operated chocolate dipping station, a complex operation involving two robots, melted chocolate, dipping spoons, and a conveyer belt. “In this way, we’re adapting the robots to complete specific tasks,” explains Fraser. “Once students master these skills using terrestrial robots, they waterproof similar technology and learn how to complete underwater tasks.”
This coming June will be the second year that LBCC has fielded a team in the national ROV competition. Last year, the team’s ROV didn’t win, but Fraser says that the students learned a lot of good lessons regardless. “It was a great experience for them to apply their knowledge to solve problems in real-time,” he says. “What was really exciting was seeing the returning students share what they learned with new students.”
ROV Applications in Multiple Disciplines
Working with ROVs provides Fraser’s students with what he calls a “reference point” for a broad array of electrical technology applications. “Teachers need to make it easier for students to relate what they learn in the classroom to what they do on the job,” he says. “It’s much easier for students to learn the theory when they understand its application.”
Because LBCC does not have a specific marine technology program, the ROV application is used to explain concepts across multiple math, science, and technology disciplines. “For example, I can relate ROV technology to trigonometry by asking students to calculate the size of the ROV test tank that we need to buy,” explains Fraser.
LBCC is in the process of developing a marine technology certificate than can be earned on top of the general two-year electrical technology degree. The certificate program will pull together classes in welding, machining, GIS, and other courses that focus on needs of the marine environment. In addition, the college is creating a maritime archaeology program that will provide cross-training for students in both the electrical technology and archaeology programs.
Job Prospects for Graduates
The majority of students seek local or regional work after graduation. Electrical contractors and large corporations are among the local companies that have hired graduates. The program has a 96% hiring rate upon graduation, and job prospects are very good, especially if the student is resourceful in his or her job search. Fraser says that many of the program’s graduates are hired even before they complete the program. “It’s important for local employers to have a large pool of highly skilled workers to choose from,” he adds. “It supports the local economy and gives businesses a reason to stay in the area.”
"I wanted to bring underwater ROVs to LBCC, because I thought it would be a good expansion for our electrical program"
There are plenty of relevant local marine technology jobs in the area. Long Beach attracts a variety of ocean-related employers, including the Long Beach and Los Angeles Harbors and the Long Beach Aquarium. “Ocean-related jobs are only natural given the location of our school,” Fraser explains. “There are a lot of nearby companies that have their own research vessels or use ROVs.”
Rediscovering the Ocean with the MATE Center
Fraser first heard about the MATE Center on a robotics mailing list. He signed up for the MATE Summer Institutes for Faculty Development, taking the ROV offering. “It was absolutely the best workshop that I’ve ever participated in,” he says.
“I wanted to bring underwater ROVs to LBCC, because I thought it would be a good expansion for our electrical program,” continues Fraser. “The next year we had a team in the ROV competition.”
Now, Fraser and the students in LBCC electrical technology program are always working with and thinking about water. “We’re inspiring our students by using a new application and working it into our program in unexpected ways,” he explains.
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