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Casting in college: colleges with metalcasting-focused curriculum need support from the industry to ensure they remain on track.

When hiring new employees, metalcasters sometimes turn to recent college graduates. But much like manufacturing-centric education on the high school level, metalcasting-specific education for college-level students is struggling. While many education programs exist for students interested in metalcasting, the critical research funds required to support these programs today may not be there tomorrow.

"As much as we would like to say our job is teaching, part of the problem is that state budgets have shifted money out of education to things like Medicaid," said Prof. Von Richards, Missouri Univ. of Science and Technology (MST), Rolla, Mo. "To make up for the shortfall, school administrations have gradually privatized. So we live and die on research programs."

According to Richards, the Robert V. Wolf Professor of Cast Metals at MST, he is one of the fortunate few "to have a named professorship" that states the university must fill his spot with a professor dedicated to metalcasting. But even the MST metalcasting program is only going to be around as long as the school "has a viable research program."

At MST, Richards said most professors teach three courses each semester in addition to conducting their research. To achieve tenure, MST professors must bring in $250,000 in research funds each year. Richards runs five research programs and assists with two others to meet his expected level.

According to Prof. Rradeep Rohatgi, Univ. of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, his university has suffered a financial crisis because the state no longer supplies funding for school technicians, forcing them to reduce experimental work.

"We are able to keep many students in our department through our research funding. We receive a large amount from work for the Army Research Lab and TACOM," he said.

For an industry in need of its next generation of leaders, this poses a significant dilemma. Research funding is available through the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Departments of Energy and Defense, but successful research programs, like those in the nanotechnology and biomedical industries, require significant industry partnership, as well.

What About Education & Training?

Industry partnerships are important for both metalcasting research and education. Partnerships in research help provide the funds college-level programs need to operate, and partnerships in curriculum help shape the education to fit metalcasting's needs.

"Industry has to try to partner with universities and colleges and sit on advisory committees," said Prof. Brad Bowman, Mohawk College, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. "Focus on the smaller colleges and universities that aren't looking for that big R&D project, but rather applied research. Colleges give a discipline to problem solving and access to tools (testing equipment, modeling software, etc.) you may not have.

"As companies are becoming smaller, they are still asked to do more. Reaching out to colleges or universities to help fill the technical gap is becoming more and more important. I don't think metalcasters realize how much they really need technical help."

Prof. Russ Rosmait, Pittsburg State Univ., Pittsburg, Kan., said his program is highly focused on practical science.

"Any research we do is applied research (research work that is applied directly to industry practices)," he said. "Some research projects are pricey for a metalcasting facility, so we work with a company. They will design what they want to find out, and our students will do the work and research, often as part of a senior project."

From the education angle, partnerships can help colleges understand what the industry's needs are.

According to Bowman, Mohawk changed its program for metalcasting in September 2008. Previously, the school had a metalcasting technician's program and a materials technologist program with a heavy concentration on metalcasting. The difficulty was the industry could not hire that many students.

"A lot of courses were designed around big-industry models, and now the majority of metalcasters are smaller," said Bowman.

Mohawk looked at the engineering technologies area of study, including metalcasting, design and diecasting, and asked the industry what the ideal profile of a graduate was.



"Turns out, they didn't just want someone with a metalcasting background," Bowman said. "They needed someone with skills in design, metallurgy, management and problem solving--more of a generic skill set; graduates are not hired just to be a [metalcasting] engineer any more."

The Mohawk mechanical engineering program (three-year course of study) became the basic platform for the new metalcasting program. It includes a core set of courses that all students take in design, quality assurance and project management, with separate streams to address various industries.

Pittsburg State offers two metalcasting-related degrees--manufacturing engineering technology and mechanical engineering technology. While there is no specific metalcasting degree, it is covered through a lecture and lab with additional courses offered in casting design, simulation and metallurgy/metallography.

Ready for Hire?

If a metalcaster is looking to hire a recent college graduate, the first resource often is one of the 24 accredited or 10 affiliated Foundry Educational Foundation schools (visit for detailed information on the schools). While these schools all take different approaches to their "degrees in metalcasting," they typically offer varying levels of metalcasting-focused curriculum in their engineering programs.

"If a company is interested in recruiting, they need to be on campus, hold information sessions, attend campus career fairs, and incorporate co-ops and internships," Rosmait said. "Don't just call the school up looking for resumes.

"Many metalcasters do a poor job of following up. They drag their feet or don't offer a competitive package. In our area, metalcasters are competing against a big aerospace contingent, engineering consulting firms and plastics."

According to Rohatgi, many students have a negative impression of metalcasting. "Companies need to bring in cutting edge technology," he said. "Students are interested in casting applications that solve energy or environmental problems. They are interested in the tools a [metalcaster] is using. They want high computational power, automation and good computer processing in a nice, clean surrounding."

Rosmait points out that metalcasters don't necessarily offer the low-paying jobs. He sees starting salaries in the middle of the salary range, sometimes even on the high scale. But metalcasting companies often wait too long to make a hire. Rosmait says the facility should be making decisions in November through January, rather than waiting until May. "You can't finalize it in two weeks," he said.

According to all the professors interviewed for this story, great opportunities exist for metalcasters looking to secure the resources colleges can offer. The key is for metalcasters to understand these universities are multifaceted resources.

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Publication:Modern Casting
Date:Jul 1, 2009
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