Integrating HI Certifications into Community College Curricula

Dr. Justin Starr discusses the importance of community college curricula to address the needs of their local workforce.

Category: Blogs, Training, Pump System Training July 9, 2024

By Dillan Wright, associate editor of Pumps & Systems magazine

Dr. Justin Starr, endowed professor of advanced technologies at the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) in Pittsburgh, recently spoke at the Annual Hydraulic Institute (HI) Conference in a presentation titled “Leveling Up Technical Training: Integrating HI Certifications Into Community College Curricula.” In an interview conducted over Zoom, I sat down with Starr to discuss his presentation and what he views as the positives of adding HI certifications into a community college’s curriculum.

Starr’s appreciation for what community colleges can offer first began when he was a student at CCAC himself. He explained, “A million years ago, I started at a community college. So, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the value they provide. They are in a region where they are the most affordable educational option for people finishing high school. They do such a valuable service to the community for building a workforce.”

Before Starr became a professor of mechatronics, an interdisciplinary field focusing on the integration of various engineering disciplines such as mechanical engineering, software engineering, robotics, etc., he was chief technology officer for a company that made water and wastewater inspection robots. During that experience, he noticed one thing holding the company back was their difficulty in finding skilled technicians. “I could get a ton of great Carnegie Mellon roboticists to design the next generation of robots, but getting technicians that build them to repair the circuit boards to actually do that level of analysis was just tough.” So, when Starr had the opportunity to sell the company, he decided to go back to community college to help build the programs that would create those badly needed technicians.

A big part of this initiative was CCAC’s decision to adopt HI certifications into the curriculum. Starr spoke about the importance of community colleges being tuned into the local workforce and its needs. In one anecdote Starr shared, he spoke about a local engineering firm that gave feedback on the college’s previous pump curriculum. In essence, the firm felt the curriculum was not providing students the practical skills needed to be a productive part of the workforce, and this conversation ultimately led to the idea to begin incorporating HI certifications in the classroom.

The recent introduction of HI certifications into CCAC’s curriculum is meant to further this idea of meeting the industry’s needs. Starr explained one thing he appreciates about the incorporation of the HI certifications is how seamlessly they are able to be integrated into what he called the “flipped-classroom model.” In contrast to the familiar image of a lecturer talking at students for an hour or two on any given day of class, this flipped model sees CCAC students getting the information they need for class through digestible videos before class ever starts. The HI certifications have been a perfect addition to this model, as they are available to students on multiple devices and are as easily digestible as the videos the students are already watching. This allows for actual class time to be spent hands-on in labs. As Starr explained, it’s one thing for a student to read about rebuilding a pump, but it’s another thing entirely to practice doing it themselves.

The Spring 2024 semester is the first semester in which the HI certifications have been introduced into CCAC curricula, but Starr already feels optimistic about what he’s seen. “Anecdotes are not data,” he explained. “But the feedback has already been overwhelmingly positive, and we’re looking at ways to do more.”

When I asked Starr if there was anything else he’d like to tell our readers, he mentioned that plenty more community colleges would love to incorporate methods like the BILT model or add HI certifications to their curricula, and he would urge industry professionals interested in forming relationships with their local community colleges to do so.

Originally published in Pumps & Systems magazine.



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