Amid UAA budget woes, diesel tech program looks to industry partnerships to keep costs down
Tractors, engines and parts galore have all found a space in the garage that houses the diesel power technology program at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
In the middle of the space sits a driver’s cab, emblazoned with the Seawolf logo, looking like it could morph into something from the Transformers franchise at any moment. But even though it’s not science fiction, program director Jeff Libby says what the students are learning is certainly state-of-the-art.
“We’re teaching students tomorrow’s technology,” he said. “It’s an expensive program to operate.”
As classrooms around UAA brace for potential budget cuts, Libby says the foreseeable future for his program is still bright.
“We haven’t really been impacted that much on our end with that,” he said of the looming cuts on the horizon. “And I think it’s just because of the support from the community that we have.”
That support has come in the form of discounted parts and software from the program’s industry partnerships, companies that UAA has asked to help write the curriculum. That, coupled with the necessary tools of the trade will give program students like Mitchel Strandberg an advantage when it’s time to enter the workforce, Libby says.
“Everything they bring to the table is what we use in the industry and more,” said Strandberg, a second-year student in the diesel power tech program. “They’re teaching students on a live vehicle.”
The parts inside those live vehicles don’t come cheap, Libby notes, adding an engine alone can run about $30,000. But donations from industry partners like Cummins Northwest and NC Machinery help keep program costs down.
“It really compiles to hundreds of thousands of dollars that we save through educational discounts, tools, tractors, the equipment in general,” said Libby.
UAA’s industry partnerships translate to hands-on learning, one of the reasons Strandberg was attracted to the diesel tech program.
“I feel really confident when I’m working with my hands. I can really get a feel for things and get up close and personal,” he said. “And especially if I get to take it apart and reassemble it, it sticks with me pretty well.”
Libby says the program is seeing record enrollment numbers and 94 percent job placement rate after graduation.
“I think those industry partnerships are really driving it,” said Libby of the success in finding students employment. “Students realize, at this point, no matter where they go in the world, they can find work related to this. You’re going to have heavy equipment operations wherever you go in the world –trucking industry, transportation industry — that’s kind of what we’re based on here.”
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