Tool Loaning Resource Lends a High-Tech Hand
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South Texas College is giving students at its Technology Campus the opportunity to borrow industry-standard tools through the use of Lending Library Services, which it began in 2020. With students needing access to software for VR (above), advanced architectural drafting, and Adobe Creative Suite design, and between cameras, computers and software, it’s not unusual for a student to borrow more than $3,000 worth of equipment at a time.
Need a specific tool or piece of technology to complete your South Texas College coursework? Check it out!
With the swipe of a student ID card, Jaguars can borrow industry-standard tools and high-speed computers the same way they borrow books in the library.
“It works just like they're checking out a book,” says Jose Vela, Chair of Construction Supervision, HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, A/C & Refrigeration), and Electrician Technology. “The Lending Library has been something that our HVAC program has had an eye on for a while.”
It’s a game-changer for programs like heating and cooling, where students must acquire $800 worth of equipment as they go through their studies. From simple screwdrivers to complex gauges, the list of 20 tools is essential for when students take their capstone class and hit the ground running with work experience.
“It can be challenging for students to get all of these tools,” says the instructor. “We wanted to use our Perkins Grant to purchase some of these tools and check them out to students who might be struggling.”
Starting in March of last year, the lending library has been a hit for HVAC students and beyond. And unlike patrons in a typical library, they’re not staying quiet.
“We’ve already had some positive feedback,” shares Laura Salas, Program Chair of Architectural & Engineering Design Technology (AEDT). The last cohort of students in the high-tech drafting program had access to 20 state-of-the-art Canon DSLR cameras and eight G7 laptops.
As the instructor says, “There was an opportunity for us to really try and help the needs of our students during the pandemic with access to technology.”
The AEDT program has hefty software requirements, demanding high-speed computers with enough power to process high-res renderings. The top-of-the-line G7 laptops allow students to create advanced architectural environments in virtual reality. Meanwhile, using the semi-professional cameras, future drafters can document their projects for resume-boosting portfolios.
“Altogether, with the laptops, it gets pretty pricey,” says Salas. The computers themselves cost about $1,700 – and that’s just for the hardware itself. Students also need access to software for VR, advanced architectural drafting, and Adobe Creative Suite design. Between cameras, computers and software, it’s not unusual for a student to borrow $3,000+ worth of equipment at a time.
While the division does feature computer labs and a brand-new VR lab bearing industry-standard equipment, the ongoing health crisis has rendered it essential to provide learn-from-home options.
“Because of the pandemic, not everybody was able to come and use the equipment here. With the laptops, it really helps that. They’re able to check it out and then use it on their own time.”
“Because of the pandemic, not everybody was able to come and use the equipment here,” recalls Salas. “With the laptops, it really helps that. They’re able to check it out and then use it on their own time.”
The strategy has been particularly helpful for learners who either did not have a computer or couldn’t run the RAM-intensive software on an older model. With demand for architectural and civil drafters climbing by seven percent annually in Texas, the need to learn on the latest equipment is more critical than ever.
Meanwhile, in HVAC, the lending program has helped keep learners on track to reach their career goals despite the challenges of the pandemic. When the current academic year started in a hybrid model, for example, HVAC students needed a way to keep up without coming to campus.
“We had this program that was meant to be hands-on … where students would be here in the classroom working on units,” recalls Vela. “Now, they couldn’t be doing that — they were at home.”
The Lending Library sprang into action, acquiring specialized kits so students could bring the same equipment they usually worked with in class home with them. From flow hoods that monitored airflow to thermal imagers, students had everything they needed to keep on learning … and they even made some surprising discoveries.
“They come back saying things like, ‘Wow, we didn’t realize how inefficient our homes were … These tools are amazing!’” says Vela. Putting concepts to work at home has helped students apply their studies to their own heating and cooling systems. As the proud professor says, “They’re actually able to see why they have those deficiencies.”
It’s the kind of personal discovery that students couldn’t have made without the Lending Library, and it makes their studies even more relevant to the real world.
Soon, the library will also have 20 standard HVAC toolkits, identical to the equipment students would typically have to buy over the course of their studies. While students will eventually have to purchase their own tools to enter the workforce, Vela says the ability to borrow lifts a financial burden and “gives them a little bit of a cushion” in the meantime.
Each borrower fills out a survey upon checking tools back into the library, and the results have been overwhelmingly positive. So far, a perfect 100 percent of students have reported satisfaction and success in their Lending Library experience, with each saying they would recommend the service to others.
The hope, says Vela, is that the success of the HVAC and AEDT tool lending library will open up the concept for other programs, including Electrical Technology. “We’re hoping that other programs see that success, and then they’ll want to jump on the bandwagon.”
AEDT, in particular, has plans to purchase some lighter-weight computers to serve the needs of first-semester students. As Salas says, “Just to start with the basic software still requires a computer that’s a little bit on the higher end when it comes to graphics cards and RAM.”
At the same time, the department is exploring the possibility of lending out VR headsets along with laptops, giving students a virtual boost while learning from home.
“I’m just grateful that we were able to provide this opportunity to our students,” says Salas. “I think it’s a win-win situation.”
For students like AEDT’s Maria Hernandez, it’s more than just the cost savings. It’s about the peace of mind that access to state-of-the-art tools can instill.
“I want to give thanks to the AEDT program and the library,” shares the grateful learner. “I felt more confident I was going to complete the requirements for the classes I signed up for.”
The future architectural drafter borrowed a G7 laptop along with a mobile NETGEAR Wi-Fi device, and she says they have made all the difference this semester.
“It saved me time and money,” reflects Hernandez. “I was in the comfort of my own home. And that gave me a stress-free experience to work on my assignment.”
For more information, students can contact Marianella Sanchez, Librarian II at STC’s Technology Campus, at 956-872-6207 or email email@example.com.