Manufacturing Assistance Center Connects Communities With Technical Skills, Careers

Wadjet Mentuhotep and Lu Zhu standing in front of a projection screenWadjet Mentuhotep is searching for a personally rewarding career field that will complement his professional experiences and interests, and a training center — sponsored by Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering — is helping to guide his quest.

A resident of Pittsburgh’s Homewood neighborhood, Mentuhotep is currently taking two six-week courses at the Swanson School’s Manufacturing Assistance Center (MAC). The MAC offers classes, programs and workshops in precision manufacturing — skills needed to work in a range of technical industries. Mentuhotep’s classes — CNC (Computer Numerical Control) Operations and Programming and Advanced CNC and Mastercam — provide specialized training in machine-language programming, product design, production setup and machinery maintenance.

industrial building in Homewood where MAC is now housed“These classes are just the first of many steps on a multifaceted professional career path that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time,” said Mentuhotep, who currently works for the Black Urban Gardeners & Farmers of Pittsburgh Co-Op. In the coming years, he hopes to continue his education by enrolling in the Swanson School’s Department of Industrial Engineering with the goal of becoming a professional machinist. “My plan is to combine my sense of creativity with my experiences in agriculture and the manufacturing industry. The dream is to one day be making many of the machines that I currently work with every day.”

Bopaya Bidanda, the MAC’s co-founder and executive director said he and other Swanson School faculty established the center to help students like Mentuhotep pursue careers in the manufacturing industry. Essentially, he said, the MAC seeks to bridge the divide between local people seeking career opportunities and a manufacturing industry in need of qualified workers.

“The MAC is here to provide rich opportunities for those who, unfortunately, have often had very few opportunities offered to them in their lives,” said Bidanda, the Swanson School’s Ernest E. Roth Professor of Industrial Engineering. “Pittsburgh is an iconic American city that epitomizes grit and self-determination. The MAC looks to contribute to this city’s already industrial heritage by enhancing entrepreneurial spirits, providing specialized skills and helping Pittsburgh’s citizens live their American dreams.”

Established in 1994, the MAC boasts a job placement rate of more than 95 percent. Last year, it relocated from its original location in Allegheny County’s Harmar Township to the Bridgeway Capital Building, a 9,000-square-foot facility, in Pittsburgh’s Homewood neighborhood. Bidanda said the new facility provides a larger learning space within a more densely populated area, making the Swanson School’s resources more accessible to underrepresented communities.

machine shop with several manufacturing machinesThe new facility also allows the Swanson School to expand its programs and services. Last month, more than 300 people celebrated the opening of the MAC’s new state-of-the-art makerspace unit. Equipped with lasers, 3-D printers and other high-tech machinery, the makerspace provides students with opportunities to showcase their creativity using the latest technologies. The unit also offers small business development services by PantherlabWorks, part of the University’s Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence.  

“In Homewood, we have a vibrant pool of citizens who are eager to move our region’s manufacturing industry into a new generation. The Swanson School is committed to being a technology hub for their community,” said Bidanda. “Now, more than ever, we are ready to deliver the highest quality professional training within an atmosphere where innovation meets advanced technology.”

Lina Dostilio, Pitt’s assistant vice chancellor for community engagement, views the MAC as one of many success stories of Pitt-sponsored initiatives contributing to local communities. Since coming to Pitt in 2017, she has been coordinating the University’s neighborhood-based commitments.

“Giving others the tools to be successful is what Pitt stands for as an educator and a neighbor,” said Dostilio, who is currently overseeing development of the Community Engagement Center in Homewood, expected to open in the fall of 2018. It will serve as a home base for many of Pitt’s initiatives in the Homewood neighborhood. “The Manufacturing Assistance Center has been a strong workforce development asset to the region for many years. Relocating this facility to Homewood is a boost to the neighborhood and to the broader city. I have no doubt that they will continue to be impactful in Homewood and be an inspiration and partner for other neighborhood-based initiatives.”