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Enriched Education

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Students in Heavy Equipment Operations program get a look at the future of construction.

The Topcon Educational Partnership Program’s (EPP) goals are simple: to provide the tools needed to aid in educating future generations of surveyors, engineers, precision agriculture and construction professionals. One institution participating in the program, Alfred State (part of the State University of New York system), offers a Heavy Equipment Operations (HEO) program that is seeing unprecedented levels of interest. To enhance the learning experience for those students — and offer them a glimpse into the world that awaits them — equipment dealer Admar Supply along with Topcon, holds periodic seminars/demonstrations at Admar’s Rochester branch. One recent event proved as fulfilling to the companies involved as to the students themselves.

New kid on the block

The HEO program at Alfred State is fairly new, but what it lacks in legacy it more than makes up for in recent popularity, according to Mark Payne, assistant professor.

“The HEO program was started by another instructor, Bill Bigelow, after the college saw a need for it, and it’s really taken off,” he said. “In the first year, after working with Warren Wilkes at Admar to secure equipment for the program, Bill invited him to join the college’s Curriculum Advisory Committee. Our relationship has developed from there. We’ve been up here to Admar’s location many times; they’ve done a lot for us.”

Wilkes says that, though Admar’s commitment to the Alfred program began solely as a customer relationship, it has been growing ever since.

“These kids are literally the future of construction, so our involvement with Alfred State is a way to give back to an industry that has been very good to us,” he said. “And after doing this for the last seven years, we are seeing the fruits of our labor. When I pay a sales call on a contractor or construction firm, it’s not unusual for one of their younger workers to recognize me from these sessions — that’s pretty cool.”

Fit with the program

As a Topcon dealer, Admar is ideally suited to offer Alfred State students an opportunity to see the latest GPS and GNSS technology at work. From the company’s perspective, Admar’s commitment to Alfred fits perfectly into the framework of the EPP, which today includes more than 200 North American (500+ globally) centers of higher learning.

Some elements of the EPP currently offered to Alfred State include: access to the EPP instructor portal on Topcon TotalCare; hands-on instructor and classroom training with a company product specialist; direct access to technical support; free access to otherwise paid online training assets; job postings and internship opportunities through the dealer network; student scholarship opportunities through company-sponsored contests, and more.

“Admar and Topcon have really stepped up to the plate for us in so many ways,” said Alfred’s Mark Payne. “Despite its popularity, ours is not a huge program —we own a single GR-3 receiver and one FC-200 field controller, and put two new guys on them each day to run through the technology. Obviously, with twenty students per class it’s a logistical challenge, so having the opportunity to take students up to Rochester to learn even more about GPS, then see hands-on what it can do, is invaluable.”

"These kids are literally the future of construction, so our involvement with Alfred State is a way to give back to an industry that has been very good to us."

Alfred State assistant professor, Mark Payne

Learning with class

Students attending a recent Admar day-long session first heard a presentation by company training specialist Curt Drewel, covering everything from the difference between 2D and 3D technology to specifics like the crucial role GPS has assumed on today’s job site.

“The technology, particularly systems like Topcon 3D-MC2, can produce tremendous savings,” he told them. “Sometimes it’s a time savings, sometimes it’s in efficiency, sometimes it’s about accuracy — it really depends on the project. But, at the end of the day, it is all about making money. The use of GPS has been so widely accepted around here that, in many cases, if you don’t have that capability, you can’t even get on the bid list. We can’t overstate its importance.”

Just a bit outside

With presentations wrapped up, students headed outside to Admar’s equipment yard for the hands-on portion of the program. There, they were able to both gain some additional experience with the latest GPS equipment and get seat time in a John Deere 850 equipped with a 3D-MC2 system.

“We have some very nice simulators at school that do a good job of replicating the basics of dozer operation,” said Payne. “But there is no substitute for actually getting into the cab of a machine control-equipped dozer, seeing the options available via the in-cab control box, and moving some dirt. It’s what every one of these students aspires to do and it was easily the highlight of the day for most. The daylong activities were a great opportunity for the students and we, as a whole, were grateful to Admar and Topcon for making it all possible.”