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Spotlight on Sim Tech education and careers

By   Sarah Young

In order to train a pilot, major airlines have a choice: spend 100 flight hours using a real aircraft, expensive fuel, and adding wear to the equipment. Or, they can go train in a simulator.

Simulation eases the cost and difficulty of training those involved in aviation, law enforcement, ground transportation, military operations, and even the medical field. And Lake Region State College trains the workforce that keeps simulators running for optimal training atmosphere. 

"The cost effectiveness of simulators can't be outdone by more traditional training methods," says Will McConnell, an instructor for LRSC's Simulator Technician Program, "and our program teaches students how to build, fix, and maintain these systems."

The growing demand for simulator technicians has attracted international interest to LRSC's Sim Tech program because it is one of the only colleges that offers simulation technician training or degrees. Students come from all over the United States to attend LRSC's Sim Tech program.

"Aviation simulators are the most complex," instructor Richard Drury explains, "so when a student is trained with those systems, he will be able to work with any type of simulator, but we are expanding our curriculum to include simulators from various other fields."

With 100  percent of graduates finding employment in the field directly after graduation, it isn't hard to see why so many are attracted to this unique program. And it is unique as LRSC has the only comprehensive program like this in the United States.

A recent December graduate was immediately employed by Airbus in Miami, Fla., with a great salary. Other graduates have found employment maintaining simulators for Delta, John Deere, and medical centers. 

As simulators become more common and affordable, the demand for technicians to service them increases. Last year, twenty five students enrolled in the Sim Tech program. While many of these students find industry jobs in places far from the Lake Region, several are employed nearby at NDTC and John Deere.

"There are a lot of opportunities in the area for our graduates," McConnell, himself a graduate of the Sim Tech program, explains. "The skills they gain here are transferable to other fields. They leave with the electrical and mechanical skills to fix things. There are a lot of industry jobs."

Instructor Richard Drury first became interested in simulators while in the Air Force. He gained experience over the years by working for Delta and fulfilling military contracts to service weapons, Humvee, and submarine simulators.

"There are also many opportunities in production control," says instructor Richard Drury, "In factories, paper mills, and manufacturing, the production control systems are like simulators. They have the same sensors, same driving mechanisms, and lots of the same software." 

Drury loves sharing his experience with students: "Being able to guide the students into this knowledge is the most enjoyable part of the job," he says, "Not many students get a chance to do it. I wish there were more. I love seeing them have that 'ah ha' moment."

Students who feel the pull of computer sciences but who also like to be busy working with their hands would be the best fit for the Sim Tech program. 
"It's where computer science meets auto mechanic," describes McConnell, "It's the best of both worlds."
Drury and McConnell also sponsor a Sim Tech Club which meets weekly and is open to students in all fields of study.