Tech Manager—Educate Me

This time around I want to focus on education at the Community College level and how many offer CAD training that could lead to a career in Engineering, Architecture, Manufacturing or more. I contacted Robert Garza, who is an adjunct faculty member at a community college where he teaches CAD. Robert and I both work for SIATech. SIATech exclusively serves high school students that did not get a high school diploma. As a Charter School, it is a tuition-free public high school that gives students a chance to earn a standard high school diploma. I wanted to get his perspective on CAD training at the Community College level.

Mark: Tell me about yourself: Like many, you have a “day job” and you also serve students at other times. What is your day job? And the additional work, is that at a college/trade school?

Robert: For my day job I help students learn math at a SIATech school within the San Diego Job Corps center. [Job Corps is a program administered by the United States Department of Labor that offers free education and vocational training to young men and women ages 16 to 24.] The college courses that I have taught are in the evenings at a local a community college

Mark: Tell us about the college.

Robert: Southwestern College, a public community college in Chula Vista, California. The college was founded in 1961 and offers courses in five locations in Southern San Diego County. The main campus is in Chula Vista and the other locations throughout the South San Diego County. Southwestern College offers many transfer and vocational/career programs in a variety of departments. The CAD courses, certificates, and degrees are part of the CAD program and are administered by the program coordinator, myself. The CAD program along with the Architecture, Automotive Technology, Construction Management, Environmental Technology, and Landscaping programs are part of the Applied Technologies Department which is within the School of Business & Technology at Southwestern College.

Mark: Tell me about your background in CAD and how you got involved with the college?

Robert: I have used a number of design products over the years. I got my start with CorelDRAW and Adobe Photoshop where I used them to design plates and decorative wall plaques. I started at a time when there were not a lot of online resources available for learning technology so I had to learn by trying out each tool to see what it did. I was fortunate to have a good learning environment and a supportive boss that allowed me to develop creative solutions to design problems. A few years later I enrolled in an AutoCAD course at Southwestern College. I did well in the course and the instructor referred me to a job teaching AutoCAD at the school where I now work, SIATech. I started teaching at the college when the same instructor contacted me again and asked me to teach an evening course. After teaching several semesters of AutoCAD courses at the college I started teaching the SolidWorks course. The full time CAD instructor at the college eventually retired and I started coordinating the CAD program.

Mark: What other products have you used/taught?

Robert: In addition to AutoCAD and SolidWorks I have also taught the Autodesk Inventor course a few times and at my day job I have helped students learn Autodesk Revit, ArchiCAD, Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop.

Mark: What is your function at the college? How long have you been involved with the program?

Robert: I started teaching at the college about fifteen years ago and for the last six years I have also coordinated the CAD program. As coordinator I work with the department chair and the school dean to plan the schedules for CAD courses each semester. As coordinator I have also revised course outlines and developed new courses. Coordinating also involved maintaining a budget and making requests for equipment. The program has been fortunate to get funding for multiple 3D printers and desktop CNC machines.

Mark: Tell me about the college’s CAD programs – tools taught, how long have they been doing it, how big is the faculty for CAD.

Robert: The CAD program shares a building with the Architecture program. Our courses are offered mainly in two classrooms within the building. The Architecture program also teaches architectural CAD courses and the full time Architecture instructors have done a good job of advocating for both programs and recently got funding for new computers that have been installed in the shared classrooms within the building. The CAD program at Southwestern College focuses mainly on teaching CAD software, but it also teaches a Geometric Dimensioning and Tolerancing course and a project-based course. While we have some 3D printers and desktop CNC machines we have not yet fully utilized them in our courses. I look forward to seeing the program grow and provide more opportunities for students to get hands-on experience with these machines.

There are currently four other instructors teaching courses in the CAD program. Three instructors teach courses that focus on using CAD for mechanical design. One instructor teaches a Maya 3D Modeling course and a Maya 3D Animation course.

Mark: Tell me a little about the typical class – length of class, what is covered, what equipment do the students use, what curriculum is used?

Robert: A fall and spring semester course is usually 15 weeks in length and meets twice a week in the evenings. Our class sizes can range from 18 to 24 students. Most of our beginning courses focus on learning how to use the software and follow the chapters of a textbook. Our higher-level courses cover Geometric Dimensioning and Tolerancing and the creation of working drawings for multi part assemblies.

Mark: How did COVID impacted in-person classes, student advancement and how did the school respond?

Robert: During COVID the college closed down the campus and the courses switched to remote instruction. On Saturdays the college had a setup in one of the parking lots where students could drive through and pick up a laptop or Chromebook and other technology that the college was providing. The college's IT experts also set up classroom computers in multiple rooms so that students could access them remotely to run the CAD software.

The programs at the college that had 3D printers were able to make use of them to help the college staff and students by providing them with face shields. Between April and August of 2020, the Architecture and CAD programs used their 3D printers to fabricate face shield frames. The Architecture facility and I assembled and delivered several hundred face shields to the college. I had three of the CAD program's 3D printers going at the time and was able to print and deliver over 700 frames.

Mark: When the student graduates do they have certificates/associates’ degrees?

Robert: Students are able to earn a certificate by completing the required CAD courses and if they complete the general education they can also earn an associates’ degree. We also offer students the opportunity to take SolidWorks certification exams when they are enrolled in courses that use SolidWorks.

Mark: What careers might be open to students when they graduate?

Robert: Students with a foundation in CAD can pursue drafting careers but they will find more opportunities in design and engineering fields with additional education in those areas.

Mark: So what advice would you offer a student, or even someone changing careers, about taking classes?

Robert: I would advise taking a CAD class to try it out and to see if it is something they are interested in. There are multiple types of CAD software programs, so even if one is not a fit, then another might be. They should talk to other students and ask them about their experience in a class. A common question I get asked is if computer-aided design (CAD) classes require a lot of math or knowledge or computer programming. They do not require programming and while knowing basic algebra may help it is not a requirement for an introductory CAD course.

Mark: Thanks Robert. Education is critical to success and taking a Design Technology class like CAD can open students to a world of opportunity. It might all start with a love for CAD.

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