July 1, 2024

CLARKSTON, GA – To assist in the education and training of veteran students for specialized high-demand STEM careers, the NSF Experiential Learning for Emerging and Novel Technologies (ExLENT) July 1 awarded Georgia Piedmont Technical College a grant totaling $1 million! The M.I.L.E. (Mechatronics Immersive Learning Experience) grant is specifically geared toward helping veterans gain hi-tech, transferable skills.

In its grant application, Georgia Piedmont emphasized the ever-increasing demand for trained technicians to support the critical mechatronics industry, not only in its service area of DeKalb, Newton and Rockdale Counties but across the country. Mechatronics is a cutting-edge field that merges mechanics, electronics, and computer science to create intelligent machines and systems. It’s a vital part of the overall manufacturing industry.

To support this growing demand, the project will implement a pathway for military veterans enrolled at Georgia Piedmont Technical College to have an immersive learning experience exposing them to the mechatronics career field. GPTC President and fellow veteran Tavarez Holston explains why this particular audience was the focus of the grant.

“I highly value and recognize the level of commitment and drive that our servicemen and women demonstrate day in and day out,” Dr. Holston said. “What better way to honor them than to connect them with meaningful, high-wage careers in an exciting field like mechatronics? We ‘have their six!’”

The MILE grant is referred to as a ‘pivot grant,’ meaning it allows recipients to switch paths from previous careers. The training, education and career readiness will be managed primarily through the college’s economic development division where six cohorts of 10 students each will be enrolled in the 16-week long program, during which time they’ll be paid $24/hour for their training. Grant funding will go toward participant support and operational costs.

Over the course of the MILE training, veteran students will engage in a full-circle learning experience facilitated by GPTC faculty that combines hands-on training, career exploration, and mentorship opportunities with local employers and community partners. Through this approach, the project will serve as an entry point into high-demand, high-wage careers as mechatronics technicians. Students will also have the opportunity to articulate earned credits toward Georgia Piedmont’s degree programs in mechatronics or in related emerging technology fields, further advancing their educational and career pathways.

Because residents of the GPTC service area have a high population of economically disadvantaged and underrepresented students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) fields, this project has the potential to not only broaden participation in the mechatronics workforce but also to provide economic security for generations. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the wage for electro-mechanical and mechatronics technologists and technicians in Georgia is about $80,000 per year.

The ExLENT program through the National Science Foundation focuses on expanding a diverse workforce in the advanced-technology fields that drive the nation’s economy.