BGSU’s mechatronics program produces first graduate

John Pankow obtains invaluable robotics training for growing field

By Bob Cunningham

There’s science and then there’s science fiction. The latter has produced robots of all shapes and sizes in our universe — and beyond. Where science drops the fiction and meets reality is robotics and automation in the workplace.  

Robots are only going to be more prevalent in the near future. Bowling Green State University anticipated the need for trained engineers able to program and maintain automated robotics in the manufacturing industry and debuted the Mechatronics Engineering Technology program in the fall of 2016.

On Saturday, May 5, John Pankow will be the first student to graduate from BGSU’s program during commencement.  

The program prepares BGSU graduates for successful careers and expertise in a broad spectrum of the field associated with the analysis, applied design, development, implementation, automation and management of advanced mechatronics and robotics system technologies.  

Mechatronics Engineering Technology addresses the workforce development need in the advanced manufacturing and robotics technologies and aims to prepare graduates ready to join the industry,” said Dr. Mohammad Mayyas, an associate professor of engineering technologies at the University. Mayyas, who has a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, teaches a number of undergraduate and graduate courses at BGSU, including mechatronics and robotics.  

Mechatronics and robotics professionals are the technologists and engineers who design, integrate and maintain automated and intelligent systems toward producing safe and efficient systems to support the digital industry. These professionals conduct their work in laboratories, offices or on-site at manufacturing plants. According to U.S Bureau of Labor Statics, the median starting salary of mechatronics engineering technologists is $90,000 for bachelor’s degree holders.

Like most engineers, Pankow, who is from Sandusky, Ohio, was fascinated with Legos as a child.  

“My parents were very supportive of me because from about age 3 or so I became obsessed with Legos,” he said. “As I got older, they’d get me more and more intricate sets, and they were able to identify that the engineering field would be a good career for me.”

Pankow earned an associate degree in electromechanical technology from BGSU Firelands before enrolling in the mechatronics program at the Bowling Green campus. He also has interned for the past two years at LEWCO Inc., a manufacturer of industrial ovens and unit handling conveyers based in Sandusky, and will continue working there as an engineer after graduation.

“We are very excited to have our first graduate of the mechatronics program already placed in the job market as a full-time engineer,” Mayyas said. “John showed entrepreneurship and leadership inclinations in his senior design project, and I enjoyed mentoring his classwork.”

According to the Ohio Manufacturing Association, Ohio provides more than 670,000 traditional manufacturing jobs and is ranked third in manufacturing employment nationally. A large percentage of these traditional manufacturing jobs will be undergoing organizational transformation and technology investment in robotics and automation, Mayyas said.

“Manufacturing jobs in Ohio and surrounding states will soon have the highest demand for skilled workers who will be part of the future in the advanced manufacturing industry,” said Mayyas, who also serves as BGSU's Falcon BEST hub director. Falcon BEST is a robotics competition for middle school and high school-aged students held annually at the Stroh Center.  

Graduates of BGSU’s mechatronics program will be mechatronics engineering technologists who are prepared to fill industrial positions in robotics and automation areas directly related to process control, electronic instrumentation, testing, manufacturing, sales and service. Typical engineering technologists’ duties may include analysis and design of process control equipment, laboratory testing services, product sales and service, applications engineering and the development of systems that require a hardware/software interface.

“The robots we get to work with at BGSU are amazing. A lot of the companies in northwest Ohio don’t even have robots, and if they do they are not as advanced as the ones we get to work with in the laboratory. I feel like we’re getting the upper hand by having the experience of working with these robots.” 

“To get in the door of a company that has robots, you’re going to have to prove that you know how to work with them. As students, we’ve been provided with working knowledge and the skills to hit the ground running when it comes to working with robots.”