New Northeast complex aligns technology, business | Education

BLOUNTVILLE — As Northeast State Community College welcomed students into the long-anticipated Technical Education Complex (TEC) this fall, the worlds of technology and business education aligned in one space on the college’s main campus in Blountville.

“Having everyone under one roof, that is the most exciting thing to me,” said David Blair, who took the helm as the college’s dean of the Technologies Division earlier this year. “That makes collaboration a lot easier and offers a ton of potential for us.” The new Technologies Division is the merger between Advanced Technologies and Business Technologies divisions.

WHAT IS THE TeC?

The new 114,475-square-foot TEC building houses the Technologies Division. The TEC’s first floor features classrooms, laboratory space and faculty offices for the former Technical Education Buildings on the Blountville campus, built in the 1960s and early 1970s.

The first floor provides laboratory space for instruction in computer numeric control (CNC) machining, welding, HVAC/electromechanical, electrical wiring, magnetics and motors, programmable logic controller (PLC)/mechatronics and aviation. The entertainment technology program also has a lighting and sound lab, recording studios and a sound editing room on the first floor.

The second floor features business, computer programming, systems administration and management, cyber security, networking, internet of things (IoT), accounting, entertainment technology and administrative professional technology. The second floor also houses the entrepreneurial center as well as faculty offices and classrooms.

WHO IS BLAIR?

Blair headed up the Computer and Information Sciences department prior to being named dean of technologies in 2019. He has been a full-time faculty member at Northeast State since 2014.

He previously served as an adjunct instructor at Northeast State and East Tennessee State University.

“I’ve been teaching for over 20 years, full- or part-time,” Blair said. “I came here to Northeast State full-time six years ago.”

Blair has more than 20 years of previous industry experience. He holds a master’s of science degree in computer science from Nova Southeastern University and a bachelor’s of science degree in computer science from ETSU.

Graduating from Tennessee High School in Bristol, he first attended Northeast State to study residential wiring and later became an apprentice electrician.

FROM HAM RADIO TO COMPUTER SCIENCE?

Blair’s interest in technology started at a young age. His father was an electrical engineer and ham radio operator. The ham radio shack of his dad’s piqued his interest, and soon they were building ham radio rigs from kits together.

Blair planned to pursue electrical engineering as a career.

That plan changed when he took a computer science class to fill his course schedule at ETSU.

“I didn’t realize I wanted to get a degree in computer science instead of electrical engineering until I took that computer first course,” he said. He had programmed prior to taking the course but never viewed programming through the lens of computer science.

“We discovered that through analysis of the collected data, we could make predictions,” Blair said. “We could predict maintenance failures before something broke down.”

INTERNET OF THINGS?

Deploying data-gathering sensors to collect information was an early method of what has come to be known as the “internet of things” and is one of the new programs in computer science at Northeast State.

“The challenges for some students are simply growing up and showing up for classes,” said Blair. “The jobs themselves we can teach, but it is our job to teach the soft skills that employers want. We are looking at ways to engage students in cross-curriculum projects to better prepare students for working environments.”

“If you look at any of the industrial activities, the talk is about using technologies more interactively, gathering and using big data to make important decisions with predictive analysis,” Blair said. “There are opportunities there that we haven’t realized yet.”

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