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Randy Gardner, Ohio chancellor of higher education, visits Lorain County Community College

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    Johnny Vanderford, left, assistant professor and director of the micro-electrical mechanical systems program, talks to Ohio’s new chancellor of higher eduction, Randy Gardner, front right, on Friday during a tour of the Desich SMART Center at Lorain Community College in Elyria. LCCC President Marcia Ballinger is second from left.

    STEVE MANHEIM / CHRONICLE

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ELYRIA — Ohio’s new chancellor of higher education, Randy Gardner, spent his first official visit to Lorain County Community College asking what Columbus can do for the college and what the college is doing for the regional economy.

Gardner said Friday that part of his job is to “prioritize how we can make an impact” from Columbus, and asked specifically how officials like him can help LCCC make its programs economically viable.

LCCC President Marcia Ballinger said funding for more equipment and course development is a good start.

“For Ohio to be competitive, community colleges are crucial to the economy and competition,” she said.

A tour group consisting of Gardner — a former Republican state senator and representative from Bowling Green appointed to the higher education post last month by Gov. Mike DeWine — Ballinger; state Reps. Gayle Manning, R-North Ridgeville, Joe Miller, D-Amherst, and Dick Stein, R-Norwalk; state Sen. Nathan Manning, R-North Ridgeville, and other dignitaries toured several locations on campus.

There, they saw up-close LCCC’s Desich SMART Center, the Campana Ideation and Invention Center and spoke with students and staff in the micro-electrical mechanical systems program.

Gardner and visitors saw what LCCC is doing to shape future careers. During a brief presentation at the Desich SMART Center, MEMS Director Johnny Vanderford said his program teaches students of all backgrounds about computer-aided design and circuits, applications for their designs and gives them specific budgets and materials to see how well they cope with real-world business considerations.

It also helps find them jobs, as real-world employment experience is a requirement for graduation, he said.

Vanderford said employers have told the college they are short on technicians and engineers, so students must complete at least 300 hours of on-the-job experience or paid internships before they can obtain their applied bachelor’s degree, he said.

Seventy percent of the program’s students are working locally at such businesses as Vexos, an electronics manufacturer in LaGrange, United Circuits Inc. in Grafton, or at one of 48 other Northeast Ohio companies with employees in LCCC’s program, Vanderford said. Forty-five of those companies are within a 25- to 30-mile radius of campus, he added.

Lincoln Electric in Euclid hired another seven students last week, and biomedical and automotive companies are interested in what LCCC students have to offer, Vanderford said.

The MEMS program “is a great example of a niche” program the college offers, Ballinger told Gardner. “Some of these kinds of jobs didn’t necessarily exist years ago,” and the program gives students “the opportunity to design with employers.”

“Students like it and companies like it,” Vanderford said. “Our degree focuses on getting students hired. All our students with this degree (a bachelor’s degree in applied science in MEMS) are working in this field.”

“The high-volume consumer model is in Asia, and it’s always going to be there,” said Tracy Green, LCCC vice president for strategic and institutional development. “The low-volume specialized manufacturing is right here.”

Contact Dave O’Brien at (440) 329-7129 or do’brien@chroniclet.com. Follow him at @daveobrienCT on Twitter.
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