Building a Workforce

GCSC, FSU-PC and Haney Technical anticipate employers’ needs

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Courtesy Charla Skinner Perdue/FSU-PC

Crime Scene Investigation students at FSU-PC inventory skeletal remains as part of a field laboratory exercise. Students learn to document and preserve evidence.

John Holdnak ruminates about programs that Gulf Coast State College is adding at its Advanced Technology Center, and he finds himself reflecting on the Tom Swift adventure novels he read as a boy.

Tom, the boy inventor, was into science, technology, engineering and math long before STEM education became cool and his creators, the writers who contributed volumes to the Tom Swift collection from 1910 to 2007, have proved startlingly prescient.

Remarkably, “Tom Swift and His Photo Telephone” was published in 1912.

Today, Gulf Coast has received the necessary accreditation and sign-offs from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and is adding associate degree programs in unmanned vehicle systems and additive manufacturing, essentially 3-D printing.

“I recently met a 19-year-old entrepreneur who was making a good living with his aerial photography business, but his mother felt that he should pursue college,” Holdnak said. “When he became aware of FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) requirements for drones and the fines for non-compliance, he decided that our UVS program might be a good idea.”

The program, which is the first in Florida, will address unmanned vehicles suited for air, land and sea. Students, Holdnak said, will learn how to program and use the vehicles and to outfit them with cameras and various sensors. Applications include search-and-rescue operations, wildfire suppression, identifying navigation hazards, SWAT team exercises and “finding things that fall off ships.”

So it is that GCSC is working with law enforcement agencies, the Department of Defense, the Army Corps of Engineers and other entities in creating and refining the program, which enrolled its first students this fall.

Unmanned vehicle systems, Holdnak believes, have the potential to be transformational, as “disruptive” as smartphones have been.    

The Additive Manufacturing Program is part of an effort, Holdnak said, to ensure that Bay County is geared up to provide employees equipped to work for high-tech manufacturers known to be coming to town. Haney Technical Center and Florida State University-Panama City will be part of the same effort.

“The 3-D printers we have in place at the ATC are baby steps compared to what’s coming,” Holdnak said. “We’re talking about equipment that can produce airplane parts. What’s next is an ability to print with polymers and metal at the same time. It will be possible to print and engine with all the wiring in place making them lighter and providing for greater efficiency. This seems like science fiction, but it’s real. We intend that Bay County become a hub for additive manufacturing innovation.”

Gone soon will be the days when manufacturers had to retool. Instead, they will find themselves simply keying in another set of codes.

Across Collegiate Drive from GCSC, Florida State University, too, has new degree programs including Nurse Anesthesia and Crime Scene Investigation.

Charla Perdue, who heads up the CSI program, is not just a resident faculty member — one of the more than 40 that FSU-PC now employs — but is as homegrown as they come. She graduated Bay High School, earned an associate’s degree at Gulf Coast State College, then collected a certificate in underwater crime scene investigation, a bachelor’s degree (criminology) and a master’s degree (criminal justice studies) at FSU-PC.

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