JJC Robotics Course Prepares Students for In-Demand Careers

Joliet Junior College offered its first robotics course last spring, thanks to funding from a Department of Labor grant the college received in 2012. This class is cutting edge, and provides technology and engineering oriented students with hands on lessons in programming using current robotics technology.

John Koepke's robotics course.

Instructor John Koepke said robotics is a part of the future for many in demand careers, such as in the industrial sector where employees program and maintain programmable logic controllers (PLC); design and program robots for exploration on Earth and outer space; and programming and maintaining medical robotic devices for surgeries.

ITW TekFast, an automotive company in Frankfort, is only one example of a local company that’s expanding its robotics equipment and will need employees with these types of skill sets. According to JJC Technical Department Chair Greg Pakieser, who toured the facility with other JJC staff and faculty last semester, the company plans to expand its robotic machines from 75 to 200 in the next year.

“The trend is that a lot of manufacturing plants are increasing their use of robotics,” Pakieser said. “We are training students so we can make them more marketable for these careers. This new robotics class at JJC teaches students the basic concepts to understand the equipment when they get out in the field.”

In class, Koepke teaches his students key components in electronics, industrial programming, math and physics. Students also perform hands on programming activities, and everyone is given a robot and robotic arm to work with during the semester.

“The big job pull is your ability to program things. And by having that education and getting into the software or programming side of things, it’s going to give you a better idea how computers control something mechanical,” Koepke said. “The era of relay logic, or just simply wiring things up, or pure mechanical systems is fading fast. No matter what area you’re getting into, you’re going to run into some sort of computer interface. These classes that we have here at JJC will prep you very well for that future world.”

Koepke regularly attends meetings with area professionals and local employers to stay updated on what equipment is being used in the field. According to Koepke, it’s important for students to use the latest equipment in his class. That way, students will be as prepared as possible when they graduate.

Koepke said his class is essential for many technology and engineering oriented students, but it can also be fun. The trial and error of programming a robot is almost like playing with a toy, and typically, the class day goes by fast.

“It’s an interactive form of learning,” Koepke added.

One part of the robotics class involves students programming their robots to maneuver properly around a maze, similar to the high school robotics challenge that JJC’s Technical Department hosts on campus once a year.

JJC is one of 21 Illinois community colleges in an education consortium, known as the Illinois Network for Advanced Manufacturing (INAM), to receive the grant that made this robotics class possible.

In addition to the robotics class, JJC has used the $525,000 grant on expanding other technical programs that prepare students for high growth advanced manufacturing occupations, instituting strategies to increase student success, and implementing program delivery strategies that ensure student completion.

In the future, the Technical Department plans to expand its robotics course.

For more information about the robotics class, call the Technical Department at 815-280-2612 or e-mail Pakieser at gpakiese@jjc.edu.

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