MORRISON, Ill. – When U.S. Congresswoman Cheri Bustos visited the Morrison Institute of Technology five years ago, she was impressed with its engineering technology and network administration programs.
So much so, that when it came time for her current, and what will be her final, Heartland Tour across northwest and central Illinois to present federally funded checks for local projects, Morrison Tech was on her list.
Bustos, a Democrat representing Illinois’ 17th District, on Wednesday presented school officials with $1.5 million that will help launch a new specialization in its engineering technology program focusing on automation and process control systems.
Providing a grant to Morrison Tech was a top-of-mind goal for Bustos, who during her visit related to school officials the impression the school made on her during her previous tour.
“We were so impressed with what you’re doing and that you partner with other businesses,” she said. “This rose to the top. And this is one of the bigger grants. We’re really, really happy that we were able to help with this and really, really proud of everything you’re doing for the next generation.”
The skills learned by students in the automation and process control systems program will support manufacturers who rely on automation or intelligent systems for their operations and will help support companies looking to add this capability.
For manufacturers, obstacles to integrating automated processes include the initial cost of automation, locating the skilled workers needed to design, implement, and maintain automated systems, and the expertise and resources needed to support the transition, school officials said. Providing this workforce development will be key to maintaining and growing local, regional, and statewide manufacturing, they said.
The program will add topics in electricity, hydraulics, programmable logic controllers, and process automation to a core of general studies and engineering coursework. It also will add to the advanced capabilities of the Morrison Institute of Technology’s Innovation Center and enhance manufacturing support through expansion of business services, school officials said.
“The current economic uncertainty makes this the ideal time to strategically prepare for the future needs of industry,” Morrison Tech President Chris Scott said. “This is a great opportunity to invest in the future workforce of the region and embrace tomorrow’s future today.”
Students can now enroll for the new specialization, which begins in fall 2023, by visiting the Morrison Tech website at https://www.morrisontech.edu/. The first class will graduate in May 2025.
Morrison Institute of Technology’s history goes back to its founding nearly 50 years ago, when in 1973, it acquired the assets of the Institute of Drafting and Technology that had been located in downtown Morrison. Richard Parkinson, Arlinn Rambo, and Dr. Albert Odey were key to the college’s founding and organization.
Since that time, the Morrison Institute of Technology has offered various degrees in engineering technology. The college was first authorized by the state of Illinois to grant an associate in technology degree in 1973; it became a non-profit private college in 1977. In the 1980s, the school added an apartment-style dormitory.
Also at that time, computer-aided design revolutionized drafting and drafting instruction. That computer technology ultimately led to the addition of the network administration program in 2003. In 2007, the college added a new administration wing, an auditorium, and the networking lab space.
The growth of prototyping technologies also impacted instruction heavily in the 2000s and led to the construction of the Innovation Center in 2018.
Expanding lab and student opportunities, applied technical education, and assuming a role as a leader of engineering technology and regional development characterizes the modern Morrison Institute of Technology, said Scott Connelly, Morrison Tech’s vice president of academic affairs.
He explained that automation has been a watchword in manufacturing for decades, but recent years have seen rapid expansion in this area. The technology has become cost effective, and provides solutions to manufacturing problems in the production of delicate products, those that require a sterile production environment, and helps to maximize a company’s labor resources. Over recent years several area manufacturers have expressed interest in a program that addresses automation and process controls, he said.
“There is an increasing relevance of automation. They’ve talked about automation for decades,” Connelly said.” But really the technology has improved to the point, especially the IT technology, the networking technology type of technology, where it is cost effective to implement these things even for small and mid-sized companies.”
The $1.5 million grant will go toward the new specialization’s capital costs.
“The equipment and lab space is a big capital cost,” he said. “That’s one of the roadblocks to why we haven’t launched previously.”
Black Hawk Hills Regional Council and Whiteside County Economic Development officials let the school know about grant funding available for local projects, so they wrote a grant proposal in spring 2021 for Bustos and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin. The money will come to the school through the Office of Housing and Urban Development.
He also said Morrison Tech will be adding staff members, and is going to be seeking to hire someone with an industry and/or academic background, as well as support staff members as they add to the Innovation Center.
The goal there is to bring the public onto the campus to use the Innovation Center and participate in the Made @ Morrison program, in which they can make a mallet, laser-cut signs or a clock, and other activities.
“We have one director who manages and oversees it, and we’re going to have to add some support for him,” he said.
Along with the grant award to Morrison Tech, Bustos also distributed $750,000 to the YMCA of Rock River Valley in Rockford, Illinois; $300,000 to Rosecrance Freeport; and $4.5 million to the Peoria Ag Lab, with funds secured through the Community Project Funding process. This year, The New York Times reported Bustos was the top House Democrat in bringing home federal community project funding for the first year of the process.