HCC Electronics Technology program gets an upgrade

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Hawaii Community College agriculture professor Lew Nakamura, left, learns about a new automated greenhouse irrigation system from HCC professor Bernard "Chip" Michels Tuesday in a greenhouse at the University of Hawaii at Hilo Agricultural Farm Laboratory in Panaewa.

PANAEWA — Christian “Fish” Fisher aspires to someday pursue computer engineering.

In order do that, he’s first starting with a two year Electronic Technology degree from Hawaii Community College.

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“I wanted to get a fundamental understanding of electronics first,” Fisher said Tuesday as he and his classmates were hard at work installing an automated greenhouse irrigation control system for use by HCC’s agriculture program.

“Without that fundamental knowledge, you won’t truly understand or grasp it. If you don’t have that solid foundation there’s nothing to build off of and it won’t manifest.”

The Electronic Technology program prepares students for electronic technician jobs in telecommunications, medical electronics, computers and consumer electronics.

It has existed at HCC for decades. However this year, it’s undergoing big changes.

This year’s seven-student graduating class is the first to complete the program under a revamped and updated curriculum. The curriculum now focuses on telecommunications and process and controls, or automation.

“Originally the program was more driven toward consumer-based electronics (such as) TVs,” said Electronics Technology instructor Bernard “Chip” Michels. “But those days are long gone. So what I’m doing, because I’m from the industry, is that we’re moving this whole (program) toward the industry because that’s where the money is at.”

“Really about 75 or 80 percent of everything you see around you really is controlled through electronics these days,” Michels continued. “So we’re getting these guys the skill set and the knowledge base to where they can go work for a company like Pacific Wireless, Department of Water Supply or HELCO.”

The Electronic Technology lab and classroom space also are undergoing renovations, slated for completion late this summer. And the program purchased a spread of new equipment this year after being awarded a $96,000 Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education grant.

HCC is next looking at upgrading the Electronic Technology degree from an associate of applied science degree to an associate of science degree. Applied degrees are generally terminal and designed to prepare graduates for the workforce immediately. An associate of science degree would allow Electronic Technology graduates to transfer credits to a four-year program, should they choose.

HCC also in discussion with University of Hawaii Maui College about aligning the program with Maui’s four-year Engineering Technology program. Doing so would allow HCC students to complete Maui’s four-year degree while still residing on Hawaii Island, either via distance learning or through in-person labs hosted locally.

“I think it’s a really good idea,” Michels said of the possibility. “Because for computer science folks, this is really the link that they are missing. You can sit behind the computer and you can code, but how do you interface from the computer to the real world? … We kind of cover that. We use software where you got the controller, you learn graphics and the integration part, and a lot of applications of just good old fashioned logic.”

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Michels said the program has doubled enrollment each year in recent years and 13 students are signed up next year.

Email Kirsten Johnson at kjohnson@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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