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Students in CMET program in fast lane to career change

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In January of 2008, Luke Levin went from stable employment to being out of a job in no time. His 12-year stint working construction had come to an end – another casualty of the housing bubble implosion.

The North Portland resident decided to do something about it and chose to re-career into an engineering field. He considered enrolling in four-year programs at Oregon State or Portland State universities. So Levin started on his pre-requisites for his bachelor’s degree at Portland Community College’s Sylvania Campus (12000 SW 49th Ave.). When an engineering instructor visited one of his math classes to talk about the Civil & Mechanical Engineering Technology Program, he was hooked. The program fit with what he was looking for – a shorter two-year degree that gave him the basics of the entire spectrum of engineering fields.

Current student Chad Lane (left) shows Civil & Mechanical Engineering Technology Program advisory board member Luke Levin some of the program's tools of the trade.

Current student Chad Lane (left) shows Civil & Mechanical Engineering Technology Program advisory board member Luke Levin some of the program’s tools of the trade.

In the CMET program, Levin discovered a passion for solar power. After graduating in June of 2012, he found work at SolarCity as a regional photovoltaic designer of residential solar power systems. Soon after, Levin was selected to join the CMET advisory board, which updates the program’s faculty on best practices and industry trends in engineering.

“Engineering is a huge field, but what this program does is it gives you a little taste of a lot of parts and teaches you the language,” Levin said. “Engineering really is a language and a systematic way of thinking about problems. So, even if you aren’t familiar with a specific material you know the way the problem needs to be approached and you can fill in the gaps after that.”

The Civil & Mechanical Engineering Technology Program is a fast-track program designed to get students ready for hire in the specific and challenging fields of manufacturing, energy, technology and building design. It was created 30 years ago with an overarching approach. It’s rigorous, challenging and resembles a boot camp for engineers. Plus, everything is according to industry need. In addition to SolarCity, the program’s advisory board features companies like Environmental Management Systems, Caswell/Hertell Surveyors, Esco Corporation, Port of Portland, Intel, Washington County, City of Portland and Green Girl Land Development Solutions. All have a vested interest in seeing the program and its graduates succeed.

The state’s economic growth depends on filling current and future jobs related to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) because companies are unable to meet Oregon’s workforce needs. PCC is a critical provider of STEM education in the Portland metro region. The college’s Career Pathways Program, industry connections, K-12 pipelines, forms of instruction that serve a variety of stakeholders, a college STEM Center, and the teaching and use of emerging technologies all contribute to the work PCC engages in every day to meet the needs of the future.

Mike Kies, who is chair of the CMET program, calls it a hands-on engineering approach focused on applications that get students out of the door to fill jobs in the community.

“What we are being told by companies and the industry is there is a lack of techs and engineers, and that it’s a growing field,” said Kies. “Companies are supportive of PCC and we have developed strong relationships with the business community. For those who want to get to work, be in the field, and are interested in civil and mechanical engineering, this is the path to a new career.”

Chad Lane, a second-year mechanical engineering student, hopes to fill those business needs. Lane was drawn to the program because of the support, advising and the challenge of the coursework. He came from North Carolina to Oregon due to work and marriage, and found the CMET program perfect for pushing him toward a new career.

“It’s amazing how every day I learn something new,” Lane said. “I want to travel more and work around energy technology – steam, gas, nuclear – and especially turbines. This is my path toward that goal.”

Interested in CMET? Contact Linda Browning at (971) 722-8730, or email her at

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »