State Grant Strengthens Del Mar College's Engineering Technology Program

Michael Bratten
Innovation Showcase

The engineering technology (ET) program at Del Mar College recently received a significant boost with the approval of a grant for $332,267 by the Jobs and Education for Texans (JET) Advisory Board, chaired by Texas Comptroller Susan Combs. The funds will be used to purchase equipment to train students for high-demand jobs in fields such as automated manufacturing, energy production, and refining.

"The grant is very important to our ET program," said Larry Lee, the college's Dean of Business, Professional and Technology Education, who led the grant team-writing effort. "Major industries are transforming the industrial base in the Coastal Bend. They each require a new high-tech workforce that is presently nonexistent."

Representatives from companies such as TPCO America, Cheniere Energy, Oxy, M&G, and Voestalpine, all of which are establishing or expanding operations in the Coastal Bend, have met with Del Mar College officials and expressed a need for new workforce skills, Lee said. They're generating new industrial investment in the region in excess of $21 billion.

An estimated 165 students will be enrolled in the courses utilizing JET equipment from fall 2014 to fall 2015. Courses in the associate's degree program include:

  • Logic Design
  • Introduction to Engineering
  • Digital Application
  • Robotics Fundamentals
  • Programmable Logic Controllers
  • Engineering Graphics I
  • Principles of Automatic Control

Engineering technicians are needed in a multitude of local industries where computerized systems control production and manufacturing processes. This includes wind turbines that generate electricity, refineries that produce petroleum products, and public utilities that provide water and sanitation treatment services.

An industry that is particularly ripe for the college's ET graduates is industrial manufacturing. The China-based Tianjin Pipe Company, operating locally as TPCO America, recently built a pipe manufacturing plant in nearby Gregory and is projected to hire engineering technicians annually based on growth estimates by Workforce Solutions of the Coastal Bend. Del Mar College is in partnership with the company to prepare students for careers in the industry, and the JET grant is a shot in the arm for that effort.  

"TPCO America Corporation is creating a brand new industry for South Texas, and we look to Del Mar College for customized training for our employees," said J.J. Johnston, Director of Administration for TPCO. "When we're at full capacity, we'll have from 600 to 800 full-time workers with many of those employees holding Del Mar College degrees."

"These plants are coming into the area and they need people with technical skills for automated manufacturing," Lee said. "The issue here is getting people into training and increasing their computer literacy to qualify for the new skill-based technology jobs."

In November 2013, Larry Demieville, Deputy Director for Workforce Solutions of the Coastal Bend, estimated a 20 percent growth rate for engineering technician positions in the Coastal Bend workforce region due to "demand for technology-based occupations to support the Eagle Ford Shale exploration, transportation, and production," as well as "the emergence of new industries to our area in metal and plastics manufacturing."

Del Mar College's ET program started in 2011 with a JET grant of just over $200,000 that the college matched, Lee said. Those funds helped purchase a variety of equipment for teaching computerized control of industrial processes.

The latest JET grant, part of a $5 million package awarded to 18 colleges statewide, will help increase the college's training capacity and prepare more Texans for employment, Lee said.

Michael Bratten is a Communications Specialist at Del Mar College, Corpus Christi, Texas.

Opinions expressed in Innovation Showcase are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.