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April 1, 2024

With $5M in new funds, SMCC is using simulation, mobile tech to educate future workers

Courtesy / Southern Maine Community College SMCC held a ribbon cutting last Friday to showcase the first STEM mobile van.

Southern Maine Community College in South Portland has received $1 million in congressionally directed funding to start a new mobile learning lab van for STEM training and $4.1 million to establish a state-of-the-art health care simulation lab. 

The lab will provide students with realistic, hands-on, technology-based experiences, simulating various health care environments from home settings to hospital emergency rooms. 

The creation of the Health Care Simulation Lab highlights a response to the state's need for skilled health care professionals. The state has long faced a critical shortage of health care workers, which was heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic, and investment in advanced training facilities comes at a crucial time to meet industry demands.

"The Health Care Simulation Lab will increase the college's ability to offer additional clinical simulations, testing, and patient-care training, giving students the essential skills needed to excel in the expanding landscape of health care careers in Maine," said Matt Goodman, SMCC dean of academic excellence and strategic initiatives.

"With our commitment to affordability and accessibility, as well as our commitment to excellence in teaching and learning, SMCC serves the community through various degree and certificate programs, workforce training, and learning opportunities," he continued. "This allocation of federal funding underscores the college's dedication to meeting the evolving needs of Maine's workforce."

New STEM lab

The Mobile Learning Lab vans will deliver training programs to industry professionals, middle and high school students and those participating in the Jobs for Maine Graduate program. 

SMCC says the vans will be equipped with plug-and-play virtual welding units and robotic arms to aid in achieving program goals. These vans will travel across the state to transport all necessary equipment, which will be used to provide training on the relationship between robotics, STEM curriculum and lean manufacturing. 

"This funding is an incredible opportunity to increase student access to STEM, advanced manufacturing, and welding training in Maine," said Kristen Miller, SMCC president. "It will provide multiple access points at each of Maine's Community College System locations and increase the number of skilled workers at General Dynamics Bath Iron Works and other manufacturers to keep Maine's manufacturing jobs in-state.

"We're proud to play our part in developing a highly skilled workforce."

Training with the initial van was held at Gorham Middle School and was led by instructors from SMCC and facilitators from the middle school. The van transported equipment for students to participate in a class where they each built a "silly string" advanced deployment device, which helped demonstrate the possibilities for manufacturing and machine-to-machine communication in the future.

"The Gorham School district is thankful for its partnership with SMCC in this and many other important educational initiatives," said Heather Perry, Gorham superintendent. "Having partners such as SMCC bring incredible learning opportunities that allow students to roll their sleeves up, create, and collaborate is an invaluable opportunity."

Southern Maine Community College is the state's largest community college, with nearly 6,000 students, over 40 degree programs, campuses in South Portland and Brunswick and seven satellite locations.

Among all Maine colleges and universities, SMCC was ranked fourth-largest in the 2024 Mainebiz Book of Lists, based on the school's full-time undergraduate enrollment of 2,922 in fall 2023.

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