In an effort to provide support to current and potentially new industries, Southeast Arkansas College has started a new electrical and mechanical engineering program.

“It took us a long time to put this in place,” SEARK President Steven Hilterbrand said Tuesday during a meeting of the Pine Bluff Rotary Club, which was held at the college. “I never thought it would take this long, but we needed to know what to teach.”

He said SEARK began the programs, which are called Electro Mechanical Systems Technology, to help businesses and industries by giving students the opportunity to learn marketable skills.

“We can turn out students to help specific industries, and some of those industries wanted to be a part of this by sending their employees to help train the students … and by hiring students who have received the training,” Hilterbrand said.

He said that when the educational system stopped placing an emphasis on workforce development 30 or so years ago, “we did the wrong thing,” and skills such as carpentry and construction management were not part of the curriculum.

Lyric Seymore, who is the dean of Technical Studies and Workforce Development at SEARK, said there was a lot of employer input in the creation of the courses.

“We didn’t want to be guilty of going to them and saying here’s what we’re going to do, but instead we went with what they asked for,” she said.

In one case, Seymore said that meant dropping an existing student requirement and replacing it with a course requested by an existing industry.

Elector Mechanical Systems Technology is offered in both one and two-year courses, with students who complete the first year receiving a technical certificate. Alternatively, those who complete two years receive an associates degree.

“Our intent was that if they drop out after one year, they’re taking something with them,” Hilderbrand said.

Seymore said that at the request of industries, students will be drug tested starting this spring, and they’re already receiving classes on things such as how to dress and act in a working environment.

There are currently 25 students in the program, and Seymore said “starting small was our intent.”