The skies above Zurich, Switzerland, loom in the distance as Erik Rogers, a junior in Arizona State University East’s aviation management technology program, pushes the simulator’s throttle forward.
After a quick loop in the skies above the airport, Rogers begins to prepare for landing.
Rogers of Chandler applies what he has learned in the classroom from Mesa Airlines pilots.
The hands-on curriculum used in this and other programs to prepare students for the real world is the essence of ASU East’s mission: Provide professional programs that lead to careers while building relationships with business and industry.
University administrators envision making ASU East a powerful engine for economic growth in the south East Valley as it evolves into a model "polytechnic" university. Polytechnic refers to providing training in scientific and technological fields that lead to careers.
"We’re producing the work force for industry," said Charles Backus, ASU East’s provost. Because of that "it will be a very attractive thing for companies to locate to the East Valley."
ASU is so committed to the polytechnic concept that ASU East likely will be renamed ASU Polytechnic by the end of the year.
Labeling the campus as polytechnic "formalized something that was already happening," said Tom Schildgen, department chairman of graphic information technology. "There’s no doubt we have better leverage by identifying ourselves in a concise way."
Rob Melnick, assistant vice president of economic affairs at ASU, points to the University of California at San Diego as an example. Since its inception in 1960, the university has spurred regional economic growth, and faculty and alumni have spun-off close to 200 local companies, including more than a third of the region’s biotech companies.
Unlike the stereotypical polytechnic providing undergraduate professional training, ASU East has added a research element modeled after Purdue University. Several programs at ASU East will complement, not duplicate, ongoing research at the main campus in Tempe, Backus said.
Aviation is just one of several programs that have evolved into an example of the polytechnic model. Others at ASU East include:
• A nutrition program through health organizations such as Scottsdale Healthcare, and Phoenix Children’s Hospital and the Pima Indian Medical Center that provides internships and hands-on experience for students.
• A graphic information technology program that trains students in a state-of-the-art press room with digital color presses and four high-end mega-pixel cameras in partnership with Heidelberg, a German printing company.
• A teaching factory that Motorola and Intel helped set up for students in electronics engineering technology. Students learn about the production of microchips in addition to management theory and staffing.
ASU officials said partnering with industry is a win-win situation: Students get handson training, industry gets wellprepared workers and programs get state-of-the-art equipment at no cost to the university.
"The state’s budget will not allow us to do any of this," Schildgen said. "We can create a complete digital flow for our students thanks to industry partnership."
In the Simulator Building at ASU East, industry is right down the hall from aviation professor Ron Karp’s office. Peter Hayes, president of pilot training at Mesa Airlines, moved his office from corporate headquarters downtown to the campus a year ago.
"It was a no-brainer," Hayes said. "I don’t think I could have designed a better relationship between a university and a company."
From the beginning of their instruction, Karp’s students use the same checklists and procedures as Mesa Airlines pilots. Their pilots teach courses along with ASU instructors, and after earning a bachelor’s degree, students are guaranteed at least an interview through the airline’s training program.
"Our students get to interface with these folks all the time," Karp said. "That’s why we ca ll it a four-year interview."
That connection to industry allows the program to adapt quickly to trends. Of course, the curriculum isn’t exclusively hands-on. Students learn theory in class and then immediately apply it afterward in lab.
"We teach in-depth theory so people know the ‘why’ something works not just the ‘how,’ " Karp said. "If they come across a new situation, unless they understand the ‘why,’ it’s hard to come up with a new plan of attack."
Plus, Mesa Airlines leases two $15-million simulators the program uses to train students. On its own the university couldn’t afford them.
In turn, Mesa Airlines and other employers get something back.
"People in the industry essentially drool over a graduate of this type," Hayes said. "We’re going to have more and more demand for people with credentials like the graduates of this program."