Students attending the University of North Carolina at Asheville will now have the opportunity to be the first in the state to pursue a career in mechatronics, developing “smart machines” like bomb-sniffing robots and laser eye equipment.

UNC-Asheville, in a partnership with N.C. State University in Raleigh, has established a new joint bachelor of science in engineering degree program with a concentration in mechatronics. An interdisciplinary field of engineering, mechatronics combines aspects of electrical, computer and mechanical engineering.

In addition to being the source of many “smart machines,” such as automobile control systems for engine emissions, navigation and airbag deployment, mechatronics is also employed in the development of movie special effects, modern commercial aircraft, household refrigerators and washer/dryers, and amusement park rides.

The initiative was developed through a cooperative effort involving the UNC Office of the President, the General Assembly, UNC-Asheville, and NCSU. The program begins in the fall, and graduates will hold a degree awarded by both institutions.

Officials say the joint degree program provides students the best of both worlds … a strong foundation in the liberal arts from UNC-Asheville and a rigorous engineering education from NCSU.

“The engineer who graduates from this program will be prepared for the world he or she will inherit…technically strong, and with the ability to analyze complex data, to synthesize cogent arguments, to work in teams, to solve problems, to engage in new knowledge, and to lead,” said UNC-Asheville Chancellor Jim Mullen. “This program sets our two campuses in a forward position in the national movement to integrate engineering programs with the liberal arts.”

From pilot to permanent

UNC-Asheville and NCSU have been piloting a mechatronics program since 1998. The two schools will jointly administer the new program. NCSU faculty will teach the core engineering courses at UNC-Asheville, whose faculty will teach the core science, mathematics and general education courses.

The current program, which awards graduates a degree from NCSU, has 16 graduates and 19 currently enrolled students. The universities will run two tracks, both new and old, until the students currently in the program graduate.

Nino Masnari, dean of NCSU’s College of Engineering, said it is through collaboration that this new program will move ahead and bring into existence graduates who have the expertise to address not only technological problems, but also problems that impact society in the broader sense.

“The problems of today’s society have to be solved through collaboration…within a university between different disciplines and different departments, across universities, between industries and universities working together, with government being involved,” said Masnari. “We simply cannot compete and succeed on a global basis without that collaboration. We look forward to significant success and we’re delighted to be partners with UNC-Asheville.”

The two universities, Masnari noted, already have a history with joint programs. The Two-Plus-Two program, developed in 1982, allows students to complete their first two years of college at UNC-Asheville and then transfer to NCSU to complete their engineering degree. This Two-Plus-Two program will continue to be offered to students interested in that opportunity.

City, industry plays a role, too

Richard Lutovsky, president and CEO of the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, noted that the chamber and the Buncombe County Economic Development Commission were instrumental in encouraging the development of a four-year engineering program at UNC-Asheville.

“–Students will have the resources and faculty expertise of two great institutions to draw upon, one known for the quality of its liberal arts foundation and the other for the quality of its technical education,” Lutovsky said. “If they choose to fill openings right here at home, as we hope they do, their presence in our workforce can only enhance the region’s reputation as a place where creativity and technology meet in innovative manufacturing solutions.”

Asheville area industries also have been generous in their support of the pilot mechatronics program. Square D Company donated funds to establish a teleconference center at UNC-Asheville, which allows NCSU to deliver engineering classes through distance learning.

Likewise, Eaton Corp. has donated funds to help outfit a laboratory and establish an endowed scholarship fund for mechatronics students. ArvinMeritor supports annual scholarships for mechatronics students.

“Manufacturing is no longer about people working individually at routine assembly tasks; those jobs are moving,” added Lutovsky. “The manufacturing that is still thriving here is based upon complex projects and bringing innovations to market–.”

Taylor investigation moves online

Grant Millin, a UNC-Asheville student and coordinator of the Committee to Investigate U.S. Rep. Charles Taylor, has launched a website urging Congress to begin an ethics inquiry into a fraud scandal at a bank controlled by the Brevard Republican.

The site, at, includes several articles about the bank fraud case, links to documents and articles about other controversies, plus a critical review of his record.

“The bank that Charles Taylor owns is an apparent center for bank fraud and money laundering. Everyone knows Taylor approves all loans from his bank,” Millin says on the website. “How can Taylor … multi-millionaire and largest landowner in (Western N.C.) … operate in a credible and lawful manner as Appropriations Chair of the Interior Committee and member of House subcommittees.”

The bank fraud scandal at Blue Ridge Savings Bank in Asheville led to the convictions of the bank’s president, who had been a campaign treasurer for Taylor, and a car dealer who was a political associate of the congressman. Both said Taylor knew of the scheme.

Taylor, who founded the bank in 1978, has not been charged with any crime. His office has called the new website “despicable,” and attorneys are reviewing it.

Qualcomm tech exec rescheduled

The time for Tom Fisher, the vice president of information technology for Qualcomm, to speak at the UNC-Asheville Owen Conference Center has been rescheduled to 12:15 PM on April 8.

At the monthly meeting of the Blue Ridge Entrepreneurial Council (BREC), Fisher will discuss the importance of technological innovation for the future of America’s economy, according to Jim Roberts, the executive director of BREC.

Fisher, a graduate of UNC-Charlotte, was CTO of eBay and Gateway Computers before taking over the role at Qualcomm, the San Diego-based developer of digital and wireless technologies. He is responsible for the business and engineering systems that support its semiconductor and global positioning businesses.

In addition to his responsibilities, Fisher recently led the establishment of an IT investment fund, carved out of Qualcomm’s billion dollar corporate venture fund. He is also a limited partner for Korean-based fund TechVentures Capital and chairman of the IT investment committee for Newport Beach, CA-based Odyssey Venture Partners, which is focused on investing and development Israeli technology.

There is limited space (75 spots) for the BREC luncheon event at UNC-Asheville. Guests must RSVP to receive a parking pass, which will be emailed after registering for $15 online at .