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This Wayne Community College instructor is preparing students for the future in mechatronics

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Sometimes we measure economic impact on a grand scale — effects on the town, community, state, or even country. But sometimes, we measure on a more granular level — the impact on a person.

Bobby McArthur is a perfect example of that. His professional journey begins and ends with Wayne Community College, where he currently serves as the school’s mechatronics lead instructor.

Born and raised in Mount Olive in Wayne County, McArthur first came to the college back in the 1990s, pursuing a certificate in electronics. This was back when electronics was all about things like tube televisions and VCRs.

Coming out of the school, he became a maintenance technician, going out and taking care of machinery for various companies like the Mt. Olive Pickle plant.

From there, he went on to work in a variety of different places. He was a Wayne County Schools diagnostic technician for a time. He worked at a nursing home in Mount Olive, first as a maintenance person before working his way up to maintenance director.

Wayne Community College mechatronics lead instructor Bobby McArthur teaching. Alex Granados/EducationNC

He took some time off from work to build he and his wife a house, and when he went looking for a job after that, he saw the world had changed. His electronics degree was now worthless.

But his wife got pregnant shortly after they built the house, so he decided to become a stay-at-home dad. He spent three and a half years doing that before it was time for something different.

“I taught him preschool and then as soon as I enrolled him (in kindergarten), I came up to Wayne Community College that day,” he said.

He went there to see if his electronics degree would carry over into any other degree program. When he arrived, he found that one of the people he went to school with for electronics was now an instructor at the college.

The instructor told him that the school was replacing its electronics program with mechatronics. His electronics degree would carry over credits into industrial systems technology, but he would have to go to school for a year.

Students in Bobby McArthur’s class. Alex Granados/EducationNC

“I was a student eight years ago, and then immediately after graduating, they called me up and wanted to know if I could adjunct a little bit for them,” he said.

He soon became a full-time instructor, and he’s passionate about what he teaches. According to Wayne Community College, “mechatronics technology and industrial automation is a combination of mechanical systems, electrical systems, fluid power control systems and computer control technology with sensors, transducers and actuators which are integrated to perform some facet of manufacturing.”

As part of that, one of the things McArthur teaches students is robotics, which he thinks is one of the most important skills needed in America.

“Robotics is going to be a huge thing moving forward,” he said. “If we’re ever going to take our place back as a manufacturing giant and beat China out, we have to automate.”

And it’s going to take community colleges training workers on these kinds of skills to make that happen. He tries to make sure his classes are hands-on.

Wayne Community College mechatronics lead instructor Bobby McArthur holding up a teach pendant. Alex Granados/EducationNC

“(Simulating software) is fine and dandy, and that could be helpful, but until you put this teach pendant in your hand and have to hold the dead man switch the whole time you’re doing it, actually see the buttons being pushed, I don’t feel like you’re really learning how to program a robot,” he said.

According to an economic impact report on the college, “For every dollar students invest in their education in the program, they will receive $6.10 back over the course of their working lives.”

So if you’re in Wayne County and looking for a new career, maybe stop by the community college and talk to McArthur. You never know where the experience might take you.

Students in Bobby McArthur’s class. Alex Granados/EducationNC
Alex Granados

Alex Granados was the senior reporter for EducationNC from December 2014-March 2023.