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WSC Awarded First National Science Foundation Grant
North Dakota Ag Connection - 02/12/2019

Williston State College has been awarded a three-year, $225,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant for its Petroleum, Automation, and Information Technology (IT) programs to produce more qualified technicians educated in automation to meet growing industry needs.

The NSF is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity and welfare; and to secure the national defense. The NSF supports fundamental research and education in all the non-medical fields of science and engineering.

WSC's NSF grant is funded by the NSF's Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program. The goal of the ATE program is to promote exemplary improvement in the way technicians are educated and to provide trained technicians.

As a result of the NSF ATE funding, WSC will diversify education for its students with professional development opportunities, ensuring Amatrol equipment is relevant and up-to-date, and consultation from a mentoring institution.

"We continue to see a significant influx of industry coming in and targeting automation, whether that be various energy companies, manufacturing, or agriculture," explained Ken Quamme, Professor of Information Technology at WSC. "All of these industries will need trained technicians and blending automation, petroleum, and IT is about preparing future technicians to handle future vulnerabilities."

In 2017, WSC was accepted into the NSF Mentor-Connect Program, an outreach initiative that provides leadership development for the NSF ATE Program. Chosen from 29 schools representing 22 states, WSC worked with Illinois Valley Community College's (IVCC) Jim Gibson and University of Wisconsin - Madison's Lori Scroggs, the grant's external reviewer, over a 10-month period to draft an NSF ATE grant proposal that resulted in the current award.

Jim Gibson, Electronics Program Coordinator at IVCC, assisted WSC throughout the drafting process and visited in January to meet with Quamme and Alex Kovalev, WSC's Petroleum Technology instructor.

An Amatrol expert with extensive international industry experience in automaton & controls and instrumentation, Gibson demonstrated how the same Amatrol equipment used at IVCC and in industry can be used at WSC. Amatrol designs, develops, and manufactures technical learning systems and other training equipment used in education and industry.

"It is always good to have another set of eyes to see how someone else is implementing the same tools," said Gibson. "We have the same Amatrol equipment at IVCC and it is very good because it is real world."

"For students going into automation, they need to have the fundamentals in electrical maintenance down," explained Gibson. "An understanding of AC/DC, motor controls, programmable logic controllers, and instrumentation will result in a good foundation for other programs as well."

With Gibson's guidance, Kovalev expanded his working knowledge of automation and has begun the mapping and blending process with Quamme of the IT, Petroleum, and Automation curricula.

"Automation is an inevitable component wherever you go," explained Kovalev. "While the first thing that might pop into your mind when thinking of an oil well is heavy piping and metal fittings, it's not just that. For any hazardous environments, oil companies will work at reducing a human presence and therefore liability, and loss of life and equipment. This is where automation kicks in, with machines doing the dangerous jobs. In the future, we will probably see fully automated drilling rigs."

"We as instructors are excited for this grant and know students are too because they benefit the most," said Quamme. "Alex is already brainstorming another grant, again in partnership with IVCC, so we can offer even more."

WSC is looking at another Amatrol module to do training with cyber security within automation.

"Everything is fluid and this grant will help us adjust our curriculum to industry's current needs and to provide a good springboard for students that will open doors to fields across the board," added Kovalev.

"The only constant we have is change," stated Gibson. "Just as students need a solid educational foundation and must learn to be flexible, so too do institutions in recognizing and meeting changing industry needs."

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