CULLOWHEE – In what Western Carolina University Chancellor John Bardo characterized as the latest example of keeping a pledge from the 2000 higher education bond referendum, Western and U.S. Rep. Charles Taylor unveiled a collection of new high-tech equipment Wednesday, April 3, aimed at preparing the region for the 21st century economy.
With about 100 leaders from the business, economic development and government sectors looking on, Bardo and Taylor cut a ribbon to officially dedicate Western’s new, fully operational Center for Rapid Prototyping. Currently housed in Belk Building on the Western campus, the high-tech equipment that makes up the center will eventually move into the Workforce Leadership Development Center, a 28,000 square-foot, $8 million now under construction and funded by federal dollars secured by Taylor.
Although those federal funds are not directly related to the $98.4 million in repair and renovation money approved for Western by state voters during the 2000 referendum, there is a direct connection to promises made during that campaign, Bardo said.
“This university took the position that if the people of the west would support us in the bond issue, we then would take on the moral obligation to do everything we could within our power to help this region develop economically so the sons and daughters of the mountains don’t have to leave to get good jobs,” he said.
“Every county out here supported the bonds. That says a lot about the faith that people in this region have in their universities and community colleges. We need to keep that faith, and today is about keeping the faith. With the strong support of Congressman Taylor, we have been able to carry forward our hopes and dreams to allow us to work with the people of this region to build a diversified economic base that can provide strong job opportunities for them and for their children,” Bardo said.
Many of those future career opportunities will require high-tech, high-skill training on the type of equipment housed in Western’s Rapid Prototyping Center, including precise measuring systems that utilize active scanning technology, 3-D modeling systems that enable the swift production of non-functioning prototypes, and fusion deposition modeling machinery that can be used to create actual working prototypes.
As part of Wednesday’s ribbon-cutting, faculty members in Western’s department of engineering technology gave WNC leaders demonstrations of the Rapid Prototyping Center equipment, which represents an investment of more than $500,000. The department also showed off new telecommunications, wireless and mobile computing equipment that is part of its recently approved program in telecommunications engineering, and gave tours of automated machining laboratory.
In the background of the ceremony and demonstrations were the sounds of construction taking place next door as crews continued work on the Workforce Leadership Development Center, which will become the permanent home to most of the high-tech equipment that was on display. Scheduled for completion by year’s end, the center will include applied engineering; digital video and digital sound recording, editing and media production; technology-based manufacturing labs; epoxy laser modeling; information network design area; and a center for professional selling.