SU Open House

Graduation is right around the corner and some students may still be uncertain about what career path to follow after high school. Southern Union Community College Technical Division will host an Open House for both traditional and non-traditional students from 4:30-7 p.m. on Thursday, April 15.

During the open house, there will be information sessions that begin every 15 minutes starting at 4:45 p.m. continuing until 6:45.

"We will also have a F.A.M.E. on the Plains presentation at the open house, where the instructor for mechatronics and F.A.M.E. Program will be in the presentation," Technical Education Career Coach Shawn Mitchell said. "Some of the students will be there to give testimonials of how much they're enjoying the program, and what they're learning at the plant that they're working at."

There will also be industry hiring managers and some representatives from the plants that are involved in the program at the open house as well.

"And then, of course, us, the career services will be there too," Mitchell said. "We offer 10 different technical degrees."

Out of those degree programs, some have guaranteed career placement following graduation.

"Two of them have a deficit for skilled workers, that's machine shop technology and plastics engineering technology being the industry and then involved in machining and plastics. There are 100 jobs available but there are only 20 people that know how to do the job. There's a deficit in skilled workers for those two careers. We can 100% guarantee we can place you in a career field. If you go into one of those two degrees, plastics engineering or machine technology," Mitchell said.

Machine shop technology, engineering and design, welding, mechatronics, plastic engineering technology, automotive services, HVAC (which includes refrigeration) and industrial electricity, cosmetology, and truck driver training are all offered through the SU Technical Division.

Another highly sought-after program offered at SU Technical Division is the mechatronics degree. Mechatronics teaches students how to work on mechanical equipment and electronic equipment, and how to program robots, hydraulics and pneumatics.

"It sets them to take the role in a manufacturing and production plant where they're keeping that plant working, they're keeping production from stopping," he said.

"If something goes down and they have to send all the workers home, even for one day because the plant went down, that could lose millions of dollars just in one single day for that plant. So, in mechatronics, you're learning how to be an advanced manufacturing technician. You prevent that from happening by knowing how to fix, or program, or work on, or do preventive maintenance on everything in the plant, including programming the robots, fixing them if they break and keeping them from breaking, fixing the line, if it breaks the production line, and keeping the production line from breaking."

The mechatronics degree in the SU Technical Division is a five-semester degree.

"These are referred to as two-year technical degrees, but they really only take one year and nine months to finish those five semesters because you're going in the fall, spring, we throw the summer in there."

SU Technical Division also offers students the opportunity to participate in F.A.M.E., the Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education. The chapter for Central Alabama is called F.A.M.E. on the Plains and when a student enrolls in the mechatronics degree program, they can also enroll in the F.A.M.E. program.

"This is for high school students and people that have already graduated high school, too. Around June 1, if they're in the same program pursuing that mechatronics degree, they're going to work the entire summer full time at a plant," Mitchell explained.

SU Technical Division has partnered with close to 25 different plants, the closest being GKN in Tallassee. Other participating plants range in location from Montgomery to Valley.

"The other ones that we are partnered with are mostly in Lee County," Mitchell said.

F.A.M.E. has become its own program.

"We have partnered with F.A.M.E. to help our students learn more than just the mechatronics degree. What they're going to learn, they'll spin that around, that student will not come to school at all. Just work full-time in the plant," Mitchell said.

This not only gives students a hands-on learning experience, but it also puts money in the bank.

"They have all these manufacturing plants that are partnered with F.A.M.E. that have to pay a minimum of $13 an hour, some of them pay more, but they can't pay less than that so that student will earn, I've done the math, it's about a little over $5,000 that they'll earn in that plant that summer," Mitchell said.

When the fall semester begins in August, students will continue to work in the plant three days a week, and they'll come to the classroom two days a week.

"It's a three work, two school schedule," Mitchell said. "When they do that. Now they're not going to work on the line anymore, they're not going to be a production person anymore. Now, they're going to take the role in the plant as an advanced manufacturing technician, and they'll begin working on the robots. They'll come to school and learn their degree program, then they'll go to the plant and work to gain work experience, and earn money," he said.

When a student graduates with their Mechatronics degree, they will have two years of experience to add to the resume straight out of the program.

"Two years of experience working in the field that they have the degree, and at the end of the one year and nine months, the plant is going to offer a full-time position to the student because they're going to say, 'You know, we've seen you work here for the past two years, we want to hire you full time,'" he said. "So, for a high school student, this would mean that the return investment on this two-year technical degree is higher than most four years degrees. They're going to go to work full-time in that plant when they graduate and make an average of $55,000 to $65,000 a year at 19 years of age, and that's going to be their starting salary since this is a career that's only going to go up from there."

These plants also offer a 401k retirement plan, full benefits, and great incentives to employees.

"For the 19-year-old students who have a 401k and $55,000 to $65,000 a year as their starting salary is pretty amazing," Mitchell said. "And in the same program, they're teaching the students to be managers."

Each time that a student is in the classroom during those two days a week, the first thing they will do in the morning, and the first thing they do when they return for lunch is have a safety meeting.

"Let's say there are 10 students in the cohort, one student will take the role of a manager. That's explaining, 'hey this is our safety practices for today, and this is what we're going do for our work today.' And then the other students give what I call pushback. They're going have a question for that manager so they're taking the role of the workers," Mitchell said.

Through the F.A.M.E. on the Plains Chapter, a student can take their 2-year technical degree and the work experience, and they can transfer some of the technical degrees to an engineering degree at Auburn University and if that student chooses to go on they can earn an engineering degree, and go on to get an MBA. That's where the big earners come in to play.

"Now with those three degrees and all that work experience, they are the prime candidate to become a plant manager and plant managers make between $200,000 to $400,000 a year, depending on what plant they're at."

With a SU Technical Division degree, the student can take that technical degree and go as far as they choose to go with it.

"They can stop at the two years, or they can continue to go as high as their dreams can take them," Mitchell explained.

After completing the program, there's no requirement to stay at a plant.

SU Technical Division is also partnered with Steris, a manufacturing production company in Montgomery.

"They have a wave of retirements coming up, so they're going to lose a lot of workers, and one thing I can say, that in my opinion of Steris, is that they're a good company, a great company. And the reason I say that is because, typically, when people get hired by Steris they stay there until they retire. So, they're doing something right for their employees," Mitchell said.

Because Tallassee is centrally located between Lee and Montgomery counties and its a leader in manufacturing in Elmore County, Mitchell said local students and residents are prime candidates for this program.

"I feel that we can if we can find Tallassee residents that want to enroll into the mechatronics degree level of F.A.M.E. program, that they can commute to Sirius in Montgomery three days a week, and then they can commute to Opelika and to go to the class the other two days a week," Mitchell said. "That's the reason that we're trying so hard to get Tallassee citizens interested in this program."

If you would like to apply to a SU Technical Division of course study, go to For more information about the upcoming Open House call 334-745-6437.