Southwestern Illinois College student Samantha Blanco, of Godfrey, watched closely as a machine carved a piece of carbon steel into a circular design of a hummingbird and flowers.
"I really like being able to go in and do stuff and see how it comes out," said Blanco, who's in the welding technology program at the SWIC Granite City campus.
Blanco, 20, found a picture she liked of a hummingbird and flowers on the Internet and traced it using a computer-aided design program. She then transferred the path she traced to the Torchmate software on the computer that operates the cutting machine.
Blanco was pleased with the finished product. "It makes it a whole lot easier," she said of the computerized-cutting machine. "You can do a lot more stuff than you can do by hand."
Many careers use technology in some way, which means metro-east colleges and universities must be on the cutting-edge of technology so their students have the right skills to land a job. Officials at SWIC, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Lindenwood University-Belleville and McKendree University in Lebanon say they are spending more money on technology now than in previous years to keep up with industry standards and student needs.
"Today's student demands a multi-dimensional level of learning because today's student was raised on computers, mobile phones and multi-tasking in every aspect of their lives. Our classrooms incorporate computers, projectors, smart boards and classroom response systems to make sure the technology extends into teaching and learning," said Mary Bornheimer, McKendree's vice president for research, planning and technology.
McKendree's Director of Information Technology George Kriss said, "Technology has a huge role in classrooms at McKendree, but it is not the driving force.
"Learning comes from all aspects of a person's life and environment," he said. "Technology is just a single piece."
SIUE "dramatically increased" its investment in student technology, said Jennifer Vandever, associate vice chancellor for information technology services. She described technology as having a crucial role at SIUE.
"While many students come to campus already familiar with a variety of technologies, the technologies that faculty use with students both in and outside the classrooms provide additional experiences that strengthen their adaptability to the ever expanding technology savvy world," Vandever said. "SIUE strives to offer the latest technology being used in a variety of workplace settings."
Most of the general classrooms at SIUE, she said, have projectors, interactive whiteboards, computers, document cameras and a high-speed Internet.
Some classrooms have technology specific to the field of study. For example, Vandever said Art and Design classrooms and labs have software for those majors such as Adobe's Creative Suite while the School of Business computer labs have SAP and Oracle.
At SWIC, most classrooms have a computer, digital projector and document camera, and many classrooms have interactive whiteboards, according to Amanda Starkey, dean of the Math and Sciences Division at SWIC.
"Current technology skills allow our students to remain competitive in the workforce, as well as develop technology skills for lifelong learning and personal development," Starkey said.
Keith Russell, dean of academics at Lindenwood University in Belleville, said professors use technology to "enhance student-learning. We hope it (technology) helps them have new experiences and see materials they might not see," he said.
Here's a snapshot of programs offered at local colleges and universities that rely heavily on teaching students using technology:
Marie Carroll, 23, of Belleville, isn't new to flying -- she works as an aeromedical evacuation technician in the U.S. Air Force. Now, she wants to become a full-fledged pilot, which is why she enrolled in the aviation pilot training program at the SWIC Belleville campus.
During one-on-one instruction time with adjunct faculty member Anthony Hodges, Carroll practiced maneuvers in a flight simulator, specifically a Redbird SD -- a fully enclosed, stationary advanced aviation training device that costs about $50,000.
Carroll was elated when she stuck a landing for the first time using the simulator, which is capable of modeling runways at airports throughout the world under different landing conditions, including wind, rain and snow.
Carroll appreciates the convenience flight simulators provide because you can't always fly in a real plane because of weather conditions and scheduling conflicts.
"With this kind of machine you come in and fly whenever you want," she said.
SWIC also has three Redbird TD2s, a table-mounted flight training device, which cost about $8,500 each.
SWIC student Kris Wangelin, of Millstadt, practiced instrument navigation using the Redbird TD2. "I love it," he said. "It's a lot of fun."
Wangelin wants to become a bush pilot or an island pilot tour guide.
"It's pretty doggone realistic," Ran Powers said of the simulators. Powers is an aviation adjunct faculty member at SWIC.
Hodges and Powers agree the best part of the simulators is the "freeze" button.
"A live airplane is a terrible classroom," Powers said. "With these simulators, you can pause it at any time."
The simulator doesn't take the place of an instructor, Powers said. "Without a good instructor, it's just a toy," he said. "You learn to fly on the ground and practice in the air."
Alex Kawalec, 19, of Red Bud, recently completed the aviation pilot training program at SWIC and is close to getting his private pilot license. Kawalec will graduate from SWIC in May and plans to attend Southern Illinois University Carbondale and join the Air Force Reserve Officers' Training Corps.
"It's been my dream all my life to be a fighter pilot, and I'm finally chasing it," he said.
SWIC also offers an aviation maintenance technology program. In the future, Powers said, "the demand for pilots and mechanics is going to be large."
Life saving technology
Nursing students Malaya Movido, Linh Tran and Rashad Harral carefully check the heart rate of "Gary" at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Gary isn't a real patient -- though his eyes blink, his chest rises and falls, and his heart beats.
He is a high-fidelity simulated patient, which means Gary, a SimMan 3G, is controlled by a nearby laptop computer and costs about $37,000.
He can simulate a variety of ailments, including a diabetic coma, cardiac arrest and a stroke, and students can "treat" him by inserting a chest tube and providing injections, among other corrective measures.
Sheila Pietroburgo, coordinator of the simulated learning center at SIUE's School of Nursing, said the university uses the computerized patients to gauge whether students are ready to work with real patients.
Gary is one of five computer-simulated patients SIUE has available to students including three men, one woman and one baby. SIUE also has three low-fidelity human patient simulators, which are operated by a tablet computer. These simulators cost about $7,000 each.
Movido, 28, of Edwardsville, said being able to practice on computerized patients is effective and beneficial for students. Movido was a medic in the U.S. Air Force from 2006 to 2011.
"It really helps me get that human interaction," said Harral, 26, of Edwardsville. "It's not real, but it's the next thing close to real."
Tran, 23, of Edwardsville, agrees. "It's really close to a real patient," she said. "You pretend you are dealing with a real patient and treat them like actual patients."
Movido, Harral and Tran are all in SIUE's accelerated nursing program for individuals who already have a bachelor's degree.
Laura Bernaix, interim associate dean for academic programs, explained the computer-simulated patients are based on the same premise of the flight simulators.
"They allow for students to practice and make mistakes in a safe teaching environment," she said.
"It helps them gain experience," said Roberta Harrison, assistant dean for undergraduate and alternative programs.
SIUE nursing students also can work with a medication dispenser machine in the simulated learning center. "The goal is to reduce medication errors," Bernaix said.
Pietroburgo said it's challenging to keep up with technology in the health care field.
Teaching the teachers
Assistant professor Julie Tonsing-Meyer has three technology integration courses this semester at McKendree, where she teaches future teachers and school district administrators how to use technology.
During a recent class, her students created websites they could use in their future careers. The class meets in a computer lab in McKendree's Piper Academic Center, and each student worked on their individual site as Tonsing-Meyer offered assistance as needed.
Freshman Dylan Faulkenberg, 19, wants to be a high school math teacher. He said he envisions using technology in his future classroom. "There's definitely more and more technology in the classroom every single day," said Dylan, who lives on campus at McKendree.
Classmate Mariah Tate, 19, who wants to be a high school English teacher, said she wishes her high school in Granite City used more technology when she went there. "I think the generation I'll be teaching will be more technology dependent," she said.
Sophomore Jeron Lamczyk, 19, who hopes to teach elementary or music education, said technology won't be the center point of his future class. "It will be very supplementary to the classroom experience," he said.
Junior Jodi Short, 32, of Lebanon, said she plans to use technology in her future class. "It's going to have a big role in my classroom," said Short, who worked three years as a kindergarten class assistant in Anchorage, Alaska.
Tonsing-Meyer explained her job is to help her students determine how they will use technology in their teaching. She asks future teachers: "How would you take your curriculum and put a technology twist on it?"
So far this semester, she's reviewed different web applications with her students and had them use the concept mapping program Inspiration, design software Publisher and data analysis software Microsoft Excel. The technology integration course is required for all students majoring in an education-related field.
Callib Carver, 20, finished his music video project in Brendan Leahy's film production class in the Communications Center at Lindenwood University-Belleville.
The Communications Center includes a TV studio, radio station, video editing lab and a computer lab -- all outfitted with state-of-the-art technology. Some of the technology includes video cameras and light kits available for students to check out and use for school-related projects.
"I'm a big technology fan. We have a great setup here," Carver said about Lindenwood. "It's state of the art. They (school officials) are trying to make sure we get the exposure here."
In the video editing lab, Leahy, assistant professor of communication and department chair, showed his 12 students how to add a title and end credits to their music videos. Every step Leahy performed on the Adobe Premiere Pro software was projected from his computer screen onto a large screen for all his students to see.
Leahy said Adobe Premiere is the software used by "real world short film producers." Later on, Lindenwood students will learn to use Adobe Avid, which Leahy described as more sophisticated software used by larger film studios.
"It's always good to be cross-platform," Leahy said, which is why Lindenwood students learn multiple software programs.
Carver, a mass communication major who transferred here from California, said his instructors at Lindenwood are "hands-on. Most of my classes aren't out of the book," he said.
Tom Calhoun, director of radio operations at Lindenwood, said it's difficult to keep up with ever-changing technology.
"We are doing our best to offer the latest software and latest technology students can work with," he said.
Both radio and video production classes are required for all communications majors at Lindenwood.
If the university doesn't offer industry standard technology, Calhoun said Lindenwood graduates wouldn't be employable when they go out to find a job. "They are learning a technology useful to them out in the real world," he said. "The radio technology we are teaching is state of the art."
Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/BND_JForsythe.
Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/BND_JForsythe.