August 18, 2006

Robotics classes at Cuyamaca College engineered for fun and learning

The way Cuyamaca College instructor Duncan McGehee sees it, engineering isn’t just mind-bending computations – it’s also the magic of imagination and the sheer fun of invention.

Thus the underlying message of first-ever courses in robotics and microcontrollers to be taught at the new Invention Laboratory at Cuyamaca College, where the fall 2006 semester is set to begin Aug. 21 – also the first day of fall classes at Grossmont College.

The newest classes at Grossmont College range from computer forensics to Digital Multimedia I, the first offering of the college’s multimedia and entertainment curriculum. Students in this class will learn the basics of scripting and story-boarding, sound and image capture, MIDI sequencing and computer music, Web art and simple animation.

There’s still time to sign up for fall classes at the East County community colleges, where applying and enrolling is as easy and convenient as going online to the colleges’ Web sites. Phone and in-person registration are also available for classes, which, at $26 per unit, represent the best bargain nationally in higher education. The last date to apply for fall admission is Aug. 25. The last date to enroll in semester-length classes is Sept. 1, but early registration is recommended since many classes fill up even before the semester begins.

In addition to the newest offerings from emerging technologies, the colleges also have available more than 2,000 general education classes to satisfy university transfer requirements. Also offered are numerous career technical classes in fields ranging from nursing at Grossmont College to ornamental horticulture at Cuyamaca College.

McGehee, a volunteer for Project Lead the Way, a national group for engineering instructors pushing to introduce engineering to high-school curricula, laments the number of U.S. students going into engineering is dwindling. The global economy in which countries like India are producing a growing share of engineers and U.S. firms are taking jobs offshore is a primary reason, but Mc-Gehee said America’s schools can also share some of the blame for not doing enough to entice more students into engineering.

“The number of high schools that offer engineering is still in the minority,” he said. “One of the things I do for Project Lead the Way is for two weeks every year, I teach an introductory digital electronics course to high school teachers so they can, in turn, teach their students.”

McGehee, who teaches introductory and intermediate-level engineering classes, was an oceanographer for a decade before being hired as an adjunct faculty member at Cuyamaca in 2001. Less than a year later, he was hired by the college to teach full-time.

The new robotics and micro-controllers classes reflect the college’s intent to get more students interested in engineering, even with its daunting reputation as one of the toughest majors.

The startup of Cuyamaca’s new Invention Laboratory is the genesis of the college’s long-range plan to develop a Center for Invention and Design on the campus, where, ultimately, classes could be offered in what McGehee calls rapid prototyping. He envisions students designing and developing actual prototypes of robotic devices, which have become a mainstay of the automotive industry where human work on the plant floor is increasingly relegated to overseeing mechanical workers.

For a full listing of classes, class schedules are posted at both college Web sites and campus entrances. The schedule is needed for either telephone or on-line registration, once a student has applied for admission.

New students must first file an application online or in the colleges’ admissions and records offices. Driving and campus maps, in addition to the online application and the registration service, WebConnect, are available at and

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