Robots, correctional officers and botany – A unique path to Mechatronics
Nick Walker’s story is like something out of a sci-fi movie – like the Schwarzenegger film, “Terminator,” where the main character decides that getting with the program of current technology might be better than fighting it. If I close my eyes, I can see Nick wrestling with a giant orange robotic arm, tackling it to the ground and then skillfully using his tools to mend the itinerant robot into a highly productive piece of equipment in a factory.
But Nick Walker’s story didn’t start out with him working on the modern manufacturing robots of today. Believe it or not, Nick started at Purdue University back in the 1990’s. He went there to study Botany, and then determined that the salaries and daily activities of botanists, were not what he envisioned. In Nick’s mind, he thought he might be able to take his botany skills into the field, exploring the jungles in South America to discover new types of plants. When reality hit and he realized that he might be working in a lab all day, with a low wage, he jumped ship.
His story, is something out of a movie because he then decides to work as a Correctional Officer at a prison for high-conflict prisoners that have been segregated from others. To this day, although he has changed careers and has had many new milestones, people still love the stories he tells from that experience.
After 12 years of working at the prison, Nick was encouraged to consider applying for a promotion. A supervisor asked Nick what he wanted to do with his career – “Where do you see yourself in five years?” the supervisor asked. Thoughtfully Nick responded, “You know what, not here.” Nick felt that he wanted to make something and be productive.
But like most of us, he was tied to that income. With a family to consider, he had to really think about the idea of going back to school.
Because he liked working with his hands, he enrolled in the Welding program at Everett Community College in fall 2015. Somewhere along the line he was exposed to robots welding things together and he had an epiphany.
“Wow, I won’t be able to outperform a robotic welder. I could be in the field for years, and never weld like them.” But he didn’t give up and throw in the towel. He turned this realization into an advantage – “I decided it would be better to understand how to maintain the robots.” With a challenge of competing with technology, he decided to not fight it, but embrace it!
Luckily, at that same time, Everett Community College opened a new program called Mechatronics – sounds futuristic, yes? Nick enrolled in the program and took classes like robotics foundations, digital, electronic and mechanical control systems, and computer programming.
The marriage of IT, mechanics, and robotics led him to an internship with Boeing in the Equipment Service department. He said, “The internship was directly in line with what we had been studying. The internship was broad – from fixing fans that production used to diffuse fumes, to backup power units for moving the 777 through the line.” He said that in most cases the work was pro-active, but on occasion there was a “drop everything and fix this now” mandate, which he said he didn’t mind.
The best part of the story is that Nick got a job before graduating with the program. A few months ago, he started with Leviton Manufacturing Company, Inc., the largest privately held manufacturer of electrical wiring equipment in North America. He will graduate with his Mechatronic ATA degree this spring. Leviton is supporting his schedule as he finishes school.
For Nick, it’s been an interesting road. He said that the program wasn’t easy, but he was committed to learning a new trade.
Technicians in the Mechatronics industry can expect to earn from $40,000-80,000 a year per Nick. He is looking forward to a bright future working with the robots and not fighting with them.
Nick Walker attended Everett Community Colleges Mechatronics program, and you can too! Check it out.
Mechatronics has tremendous momentum in Washington. Currently, five community and technical colleges in western Washington are developing Mechatronics programming. Learn more about the colleges, and contact us with questions.