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RAMP program teaches engineering from a distance

POSTED: March 16, 2013 12:30 a.m.

Gainesville High freshman Noah Johnson, left, shows eighth-grader Vraj Patel his work on the school's programmable logic control trainer during the students' work in the RAMP project.

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Four students from Gainesville High School sit in front of a screen in the old auto mechanics lab along with dozens of other students working on computers.

But these four young men sit along a back wall, isolated from the others. They are working at four stations, each with a PLC computer, a headset and a mechatronic platform. And the instructor, George Griffin, is more than 300 miles away at Moultrie Technical College in south central Georgia.

“I have eight monitors and can see what the machines are doing,” said Griffin, who supports and instructs several Remote Automations Management Project programs at Georgia high schools. “I can also see the computer screen and control it.”

The computer controls the mechatronic technology, which combines various engineering disciplines, including mechanical, electrical and computer.

The RAMP program at Moultrie Tech is the only one of its kind in Georgia and only the second in the country. The first RAMP was created at Alexandria Technical College in Minnesota in 2005, after regional manufactures became curious about regional manufacturing economics.

Sophomore Ivan Gonzalez, 16, said his dad is curious about his RAMP training since he works in a factory building tractors.

“My parents want me to go into what I know I can do — for as long as I want,” Gonzalez said. He said his interest is in medical robotics.

“It is at the introductory level,” Griffin said of the course. If a student decides to continue on the mechatronic path, he or she can seek more education at a technical college or maybe move into engineering within a four-year college program.

Steve Lawhorne, the teacher who coordinates the class at Gainesville, said one student was even able to move into a local job after working in the program. Dual enrollment credit is also available for qualified students.

“We have to do a lot of work before we got here,” said freshman Max Summer, 14. It seemed like more time was spent on the computer than the machinery, at first, he said.

“It is different than other technology,” Summer said.

Griffin watches his students remotely via a high-resolution camera mounted on the ceiling. Though the students cannot see him, they can talk to him via a headset and microphone.

“It is a little weird not to have a face to face look,” Summer said.

The mechatronics and RAMP program is a time-consuming process for students who take on the challenge.

“They have a lot of contents and exercises to go through including problem solving,” Griffin said.

Many times the students have to look at their work in reverse to see where they are going and where they have come from, he said.

“It is not for everybody,” Griffin said. Even so, he said there are not enough RAMP classes in the U.S. at the high school level.

Sophomore Jakim Johnson, 16, said he walked in the program with knowledge of some electronics and eighth-grade physics. The online simulation program first starts with learning how to program how traffic lights run using logic and planning, Jakim Johnson said. Next, there are more difficult programs to manage such as programming an arm or conveyor belt to move a square or circular object through an assembly line process.

“It is puzzle piece work on how to find out how it will work, and if I get stuck, I call Mr. Griffin,” he said.
Johnson’s younger brother freshman Noah, 15, said he gets stumped sometimes and looks to his older brother for guidance. He said RAMP and mechatronics is “complicated, but interesting.”

RAMP’s real-time instruction provides the education for students who are entering a mechatronic work force.
“School budgets are looking for friends in the community to help fill the voids in training,” Griffin said. He said his support costs $4,500 per semester for online content and software and instruction.

Fourteen high schools and 326 high school students in Georgia are served by the RAMP.

Two years ago Moultrie Tech expanded its RAMP program with $1.75 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. Through the South Georgia Community-Based Job Training Consortium, RAMP was developed to provide training to current workers, dislocated workers, high school students and disadvantaged African-American youth in the four-county service area of Colquitt, Tift, Turner and Worth.


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