Accelerating the Tennessee Valley automotive industry


April 20, 2015

Middle Tennessee State University Receives Scholarship Grant

Mechatronics engineering has become one of the newest and hottest Middle Tennessee State University programs in two years’ time. Now, it just got hotter!

A three-year, $614,172 grant from the National Science Foundation to MTSU for scholarships will help mechatronics engineering expand even faster.

The focus of this award is to increase numbers, diversity, retention and graduation rates of students graduating from MTSU with a mechatronics engineering degree.

At least 15 incoming freshmen students for each of the next three years will receive scholarship awards for up to $10,000 and are expected to average $5,800 when other scholarships (including Hope lottery) are added. Participation priority will be given to qualified female and minority applicants to meet the objective of increasing the percentage of these student populations.

Mechatronics engineering - a program that combines mechanical, computer and electrical engineering, systems integration and project management - has grown to 125-plus students. Department of Engineering Technology Chair Walter Boles anticipates nearly 200 when classes begin for the 2015-16 academic year in August.

For more about the program, visit

MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee said the NSF grant “will allow us to recruit a diverse array of truly outstanding students into our mechatronics engineering program. It’s a tremendous boost for such a young program.”

Provost Brad Bartel said the award “is critical to the future success of the mechatronics program.”

“First, the program is a national model of partnership among three types of higher education institutions (technology college, community college and university) along with private industry and area high schools,” Bartel said. “Second, the program has dramatic growth, with over 125 majors at MTSU in less than two years, with more dynamic growth expected.”

“The award will allow us to attract and retain a talented and diverse pool of students and graduate them faster, so that industry will have the needed supply of talented professionals,” Bartel added.

In addition to the scholarship, students can participate in enrichment activities that include a weeklong summer training experience at Siemens headquarters in Berlin, Germany; a four-week mechatronics research team project; mentoring and manufacturing plant tours.

Heeding the president’s and provost’s call for retention, Boles said the NSF grant scholarship money will “allow students to focus on their studies, complete college in four years instead of six and give them two additional years of earnings and less debt.”

“The need for mechatronics engineering education is growing, not only in the Middle Tennessee area, but also across the entire country as many enterprises are seeking qualified applicants to design and upgrade their automated systems,” Boles said. “Automation is prevalent in all business sectors so our graduates have unlimited, lucrative career opportunities.”

Beth Duffield, vice president of workforce development for the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce, said “with the continued growth of the manufacturing sector in Rutherford County, the need for a skilled workforce to fill increasingly more technical jobs in robotics and engineering has never been greater.”

“The mechatronics engineering degree from MTSU is helping to train students to fill these high demand jobs,” Duffield added. “The Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce greatly appreciates the work of Motlow State Community College and MTSU in building a pathway for students of all ages to earn level 1, 2 and 3 Siemens mechatronics certifications.

“We believe the programs will continue to grow in popularity as students complete and quickly find employment with great local companies, earning $40,000 and more right out of school. These programs are a win for our job seekers, our employers and our community as a whole.”

Tennessee is a national leader in automotive manufacturing and named “top-ranked state for automotive manufacturing” for the past three years by Business Facilities magazine. It recently was designated one of 12 Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership, or IMCP, regions by the White House.

“The development of the mechatronics engineering degree is a great example of an academic-industry partnership,” said Andrienne Friedli, MTSU’s representative on the IMCP Consortium. “We are continuing to work together with our colleagues at the University of Tennessee and TBR institutions to address the workforce and research needs of the automotive industry.”

MTSU hosted an IMCP workshop in August.

The program is based on a three-level international certification program created by Siemens, a German engineering company. Current and future students will utilize Siemens equipment.

Professor Ahad Nasab, who directs the program, led the team effort to secure the grant. Boles, assistant professor Erica Hu and Saeed Foroudastan, associate dean for the College of Basic and Applied Sciences, assisted him. Others assisting in the grant preparation were Tom Cheatham, director of the Tennessee STEM Education Center; Sharon Brown-Smith and Todd Gary, who both work in the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs.

Map of the Tennessee Valley

The Tennessee Valley region is home to six major automotive manufacturers with a supply chain of over 900 mostly small- and medium-sized businesses, employing more than 100,000 people.

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