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Mechatronics diploma taking off despite recruitment and hiring challenges

Students and faculty were excited to see the new engineering physics diploma in mechatronics unfold this semester, having been underway since the fall.

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By Miranda Louwerse (Contributor) – Email

Print Edition: March 4, 2015

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Students and faculty were excited to see the new engineering physics diploma in mechatronics unfold this semester, having been underway since the fall.

Mechatronics is a branch of engineering that combines mechanics and electronics. Students enter the diploma after a year of university studies in physics and mathematics. They then take two years of physics and engineering-intensive courses that focus on learning the theory of mechatronics. At the end, students complete a final project in a course titled “Mechatronics.”

Lin Long, an electrical engineer hired by the faculty of sciences to help develop and run the diploma, describes the final course as the “milestone project,” in which students work in groups to apply everything they have learned throughout the program.

“For our courses, we have automatic control systems, we have mechanics, and we have sensors and actuators,” Long says. “So this would combine all those courses together to work on this project.” She adds that the course combines hands-on and theoretical approaches.

“Most of it would be hands-on; they have to assemble it. On the academic side, they need to … figure out the control system,” she says.

This blend of applied and theoretical approaches is what sets UFV’s program apart from other BC engineering diploma programs, according to physics professor Tim Cooper.

“Generally two-year programs, in order for their graduates to be useful, have a lot of hands-on skills and therefore less academic skills. There’s only so much room in two years; we wanted a higher academic level, but we knew we couldn’t have a degree,” Cooper explained back when the program was under review in October 2013.

The capstone course, in combination with the rest of the diploma, will qualify students for jobs as if they completed a four-year engineering degree. Cooper says the diploma’s intention is to streamline the process and allow students to graduate faster; because students get work experience sooner, in the end the diploma is about equivalent to a full degree.

Right now, one of the main efforts of the program developers is to attract international students, as they pay more tuition to take the same courses.

“The program is self-funded,” says Long. “We have to take international students to support us.”

When the diploma was developed, the university intended to admit 18 students: nine domestic and nine international. Cooper says there are currently 13 students enrolled, two of whom are international. He says that because the program is new, they have not been able to promote the program internationally yet.

To encourage international enrollment, they have been in contact with universities in China, who are now preparing to send 30 to 40 students to study mechatronics at UFV.

Another difficulty facing the program is hiring qualified instructors. For an engineering program to be allowed to give students credentials, the instructors must have an engineering degree and at least four years of experience in the field. Cooper says these qualifications indicate instructors have gotten past their first job; they are more firmly established in the field and therefore more qualified to teach. However, it also usually means they currently have high-paying jobs and it is more difficult to attract them to teaching at UFV.

“This is our new program and we have had some difficulties to start up in the beginning,” Long says. “On the other side, [students] are very excited. In courses for this semester, I am teaching circuit analysis and electronics, and I can see that they are very excited [and] interested.”

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