Gearing Up for the Future

A group of Oakland seniors collaborate during a mechatronics lab.

By Ashley Ball, Classroom Chronicles

Few high school seniors have to drive away from their high school to their first period class, but 24 Rutherford County seniors are wearing out the tread between Oakland High School and the Bridgestone tire plant in LaVergne. The seniors are part of Oakland High’s first ever mechatronics program in partnership with Motlow State Community College and Bridgestone. Students pile into an Oakland bus every other day to attend dual-enrollment classes working toward both high school graduation and their Level 1 Mechatronics Certification.

A mechatronics instructor from Motlow leads the classes for Oakland students.

Mechatronics, a blend of mechanical, electrical, and computerized technology, is used in the automotive, finance, and healthcare industry just to name a few (think ATMs and surgical robots).

The group was handpicked by faculty at Oakland to participate in the pioneer program, designed to give students specialized training in an area middle Tennessee businesses are clamoring for.

Aaron Wells is Oakland’s mechatronics and technology teacher. He is learning alongside his students, so next year he can help open a mechatronics lab at Oakland.

“There are hundreds of unfilled positions at companies in middle Tennessee. Companies have empty spots because they don’t have qualified people to choose from,” Wells said.

Wells, Motlow, and Bridgestone are hoping this program helps change that.

By the end of this summer students will earn 16 hours of credit at Motlow, and if they pass a culminating test, they earn a widely recognized Level 1 certification in mechatronics, all for free. Student’s tuition is funded largely through a partnership of businesses in Rutherford County called the Manufacturing Leaders Council, including Nissan, Bridgestone, Southeastern Technology, Yate, and Asurion just to name a few. Individual businesses in the group decided to fund tuition for approximately a dozen students- a show of their commitment to invest in education that prepares students for the workforce.

This is an opportunity that Well says the kids don’t take lightly.

“A lot of them see a future that they have been given a spring board into,” Well said.

A springboard into jobs that could pay as much as $30 an hour, starting wages. The Oakland class is a mix of college and workforce bound students, some with plans to attend Motlow for their Level 2 certification, and others who plan on going straight to MTSU to start a four-year degree and work toward a Level 3 certification in mechatronics.

“This isn’t your normal class. When students are working on labs together, they can see how their learning will translate to the real world. They seem to take this more seriously than their general ed classes. This is what they want to learn,” Wells said.

Michael Henderson works with his group to build a gear shaft in the mechatronics lab at the Bridgestone Education Center.

Senior Michael Henderson jumped at the opportunity to sign up for the program.

“There is nothing like this out there. This is cutting edge; this is leading,” Henderson said.

And businesses are taking note. A Coca-Cola executive hired three top Motlow graduates on the spot after seeing a billboard on I-24 promoting the mechatronics program. Bridgestone is also in the process of creating a competitive internship for four Oakland High students. The program could offer up to 15 hours a week at the Bridgestone plant, at $20 an hour, and paid tuition to Motlow’s Level 2 certification program.

While Henderson says he is ecstatic about future job opportunities, he says this is also a rare opportunity to do something he loves.

“We get to do stuff that we can’t do in the classroom and we get to experience it like we do on the job,” Henderson said.


Ashley Ball, Classroom Chronicles

Ashley Ball, Classroom Chronicles

Ashley Ball manages content for Classroom Chronicles. She is a journalist turned educator.