During his 27 years teaching electronics at Pennsylvania College of Technology, Ken J. Kinley has experienced evolutions of curriculum, equipment and facilities. He hopes to add “student demographics” to the list.
Three female students in the early stages of studying robotics and automation at Penn College offer promise for that wish to be realized.
“I believe this is a first — having three female students enroll in robotics and automation about the same time,” said Kinley, assistant professor and department head. “I’m happy to see women branch out in nontraditional fields and do very well in the coursework, like these three young ladies.”
The stellar students are Ava A. Birotte, of Sunbury; Kayla M. Figuereo, of Edgewater Park, New Jersey; and Angelica J. Parrocho, a native of the Bronx, New York, who resides in Jersey Shore. Both Birotte and Figuereo are pursuing a bachelor’s degree in automation engineering technology: robotics and automation, and Parrocho is seeking an associate degree in electronics and computer engineering technology: robotics and automation emphasis.
“These students are among the best I have taught in terms of work ethic and engagement,” said Joseph M. Harner, instructor of electronics/automation and robotics. “They are not only interested in the subject matter, but they also have a strong desire to learn and excel.”
Their backgrounds and paths to Penn College differ, but Parrocho, Figuereo and Birotte all had an affinity for technology and family support of their inclination long before enrolling.
“I have always been interested in electronics and robots. Not only because they look cool but because there is so much to learn,” explained Parrocho, who graduated from Scranton High School. “We’ve been able to progress so much because of robotics and automation. I want to understand how that’s been possible and how far the technology can take us in the next five to 1o years.”
Printing and graphic design work as a student at Burlington County Institute of Technology in Westampton, New Jersey, led to Figuereo’s discovery of the field.
Birotte was the first of the three to tap into Penn College expertise. At SUN Area Technical Institute, she completed four electronics classes through Penn College Dual Enrollment, a program allowing high school students to earn free college credits.
“My favorite classes are always the ones where we are hands-on with all the parts and circuits to understand how they work,” Birotte said.
Automation and robotics students receive extensive hands-on experience on industry-standard equipment, including programmable logic controller stations, robots with vision systems and conveyors.
The opportunity to work on such equipment in small class settings with experienced faculty also appealed to Parrocho and Figuereo, both of whom discovered the school at college fairs.
“I’m learning things that I didn’t know were possible, and I’m building things that I couldn’t build before. Penn College has helped me find something I’m really passionate about,” Figuereo said.
“It’s great that we get to put theories to work in the labs as we are learning them,” Parrocho added. “The small class sizes also allow us to get to know our professors, who are preparing us for what it will be like in industry.”
Industries with jobs rooted in science, technology, engineering and math need an influx of talent. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there will be nearly 800,000 new STEM jobs by 2029, an increase of 8%, compared with 3.7% for all other occupations.
“The program is absolutely amazing,” Figuereo said. “It’s a very interesting field. More women should consider robotics and automation as a potential career because we have just as much to bring to the table as men do.”
Harner’s experience as an engineer supports that sentiment.
“Nearly every woman I have worked with in industry with a STEM background has been exceptional,” he said. “If this is a field that a woman wishes to pursue, she can excel and be among the best. Angelica, Kayla and Ava exemplify this.”