The destruction of battle behind him, Brent Sosebee focuses on his next mission: learning to build robots.
“Pretty much, my job was to break things,” he said of his time in the U.S. Air Force. “When I got out, I wanted to build things to help people.”
The 28-year-old is learning those skills in the electronics engineering technology program at Horry Georgetown Technical College. Specifically, he’s studying robotics in the first class of its kind offered at HGTC.
College officials call the robotics initiative another milestone for the campus. They plan to roll out a mechatronics program next fall and finish building an Advanced Manufacturing Center in 2016. The engineering department also recently added two Mitsubishi industrial robots, donations from AVX Corp. in Myrtle Beach.
“All industries deal with robotics at some level at this point,” said John Gallucci, who teaches HGTC’s robotics course. “Even medicine and other places you might not think it so obvious incorporate that.”
The purpose of the course is to provide students with a basic understanding of how to build and operate robots. It’s a certificate class, but the course also can be credited toward an associate’s degree.
That’s what Justin Citro plans to earn. The 21-year-old said he’s taking the robotics course and studying engineering because he suspects that background will be a stepping stone to a stable career.
“That’s where America’s going,” he said. “If I can get a leg up, then I can get a leg up.”
In recent years, HGTC has overhauled its engineering program, adding high-tech equipment and consulting with local industry to find out what skills graduates need to land manufacturing jobs.
“We work with them trying to fulfill their needs,” said Suliban Deaza, who oversees HGTC’s engineering technology department.
When Deaza joined the college full time three years ago, he noticed the school lacked the technology of industry. Students also didn’t seem engaged because they weren’t getting their hands on the equipment they would use on a factory floor.
So HGTC added the robotics course and, most recently, the AVX robots, six-axle machines that can be programmed to pick up and move items.
Charles Kunkle, an associate professor in Deaza’s department, said one of his former coworkers at AVX told him the company had some surplus robots and equipment that college officials could have if they wanted it. So they gathered all the components, motors, switches and accompanying equipment (as well as the robots themselves) and brought the collection to the college.
“Any industry that’s interested in this area really wants to have a trained base, a workforce that has expertise in this,” Kunkle said.
Students in the robotics course seem pleased with what they're learning.
Kayla Funes, 18, signed up for the class because she’d competed in robotics contests in the past and wanted to tinker with them again.
“Robotics is definitely a challenge,” she said. “Building a robot does take a lot of time and a lot of patience. It’s also a lot of critical thinking.”
A student in the Early College High School, she’ll finish up her associate’s degree in electronics engineering technology in the spring and head to The Citadel next fall.
Daquon Brown, 20, also took the class because of an interest he developed in high school. During a field trip to another school, he became intrigued by the robots there.
“It was pretty cool how they put everything together,” he said. “I wanted to take this class and see how it was.”
For Sosebee, the Air Force veteran, the class provides the hands-on experience his other courses lack.
“All the other classes right now are all theory,” he said. “This class is application. So all the things that we’re learning about the concept of we’re actually going to go apply. That’s why I actually enjoy coming to this class.”
Sosebee’s goals are to earn an associate’s degree at HGTC, a bachelor’s at Coastal Carolina and then enroll in an international master’s program in either Germany or Japan.
Ultimately, Sosebee said he’d like to work on products for the military, be the stronger armor, more efficient vehicles or artificial limbs for those injured in combat.
“They’re your brothers still, your brothers and sisters,” he said. “You may not be in the fight anymore. You may not want to be a part of the violence anymore, but you still want to reach out to them and help them.”