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College hopes new site will be a better space for students to create projects

PMG PHOTO: COREY BUCHANAN - The new space is spacious and has high ceilings, which representatives say will improve student safety and ability to innovate.

Due to Oregon Institute of Technology's recent expansion in Wilsonville, some engineering students will have a bit more elbow room to build contraptions.

Last week, OIT, which is based in Klamath Falls but has a campus in Wilsonville, introduced a new engineering lab and teaching facility located in an annex at 25749 S.W. Canyon Creek Road that will serve manufacturing and mechanical engineering students.

The 6,000-square-foot facility, which the university is leasing, features a machine shop and areas for fabrication, assemblage and testing. The facility also has classrooms and offices.

"We want to be the industry's university," said Oregon Tech President Nagi Naganathan. "Our students continue to be ready on Day One and that's because we have a lot of laboratories, projects and project-based learning. The new facility is going to help our students do even better."

OIT manufacturing student Nick Tucker said the wide variety of tools and space required for manufacturing and mechanical engineering is unique in the engineering field.

"Here you have to have hearing protection and eye protection and (need) space and power, all those things to get this type of equipment to work properly and be productive," Tucker said.

PMG PHOTO: COREY BUCHANAN - OIT student Nick Tucker was working on projects at the facility last week.

Diane Saunders, OIT Association Vice President of Communication and Public Affairs, said the new facility is about eight times bigger than the current project space and the extra room could improve student safety. OIT representatives said there isn't enough space on campus, which is 1.4 miles away from the annex, for such a facility.

"The students are building things, so they take a piece of metal and turn it into an engine, making (machine) parts, so they really do need the type of space where there's room to move and develop and innovate," Saunders said.

Saunders also said the student population at Wilsonville's Oregon Tech campus has grown 40 percent since 2012 and OIT also has seen markedly increased interest in the bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering.

"Part of the reason for this space is we are really outgrowing Wilsonville," Saunders said. "We're going to need to deal with other types of space issues as we move forward."

Cliff Stover, an associate professor for the mechanical and manufacturing engineering department, said the new facility creates the opportunity for more ambitious projects. For one, Stover plans to lead OIT students into intercollegiate competitions, including one where students will build an off-road vehicle.

"I think this (the new facility) is going to be a really good recruitment tool. We're actually building viable projects that are real world," he said.

Stover also said the new facility would allow some manufacturing classes that were taught at the Clackamas Community College in Wilsonville to be taught at the annex.

Though Oregon Tech performs research and development for local industry partners at the Oregon Manufacturing Innovation Center in Scappoose, Naganathan and Stover both would like to reach out to leaders in Wilsonville's manufacturing cluster to see if they would be willing to work with students in the future and hopes that the facility could help with that effort.

"By creating a different kind of project space, I think we will improve the level of interactions (with local businesses) in the new space," Naganathan said.

Overall, Naganathan views the annex as one way for Oregon Tech to remain on the cut-

ting edge of occupational education.

"The world is changing. Higher education must also," Naganathan said. "This is one way we are demonstrating how Oregon Tech is willing to change."

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