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First nanotech grads at Ivy Tech [South Bend Tribune, Ind. :: ]
[May 09, 2014]

First nanotech grads at Ivy Tech [South Bend Tribune, Ind. :: ]

(South Bend Tribune (IN) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) May 09--SOUTH BEND -- Matt Mochel, Sonja Johnston and John Szajko experienced what most college students only dream of: Landing full-time jobs in their chosen field a full academic year before completing their degrees.

Since last summer, the three South Bend residents have been working as manufacturing research assistants at the startup firm F Cubed LLC while finishing up their classes at Ivy Tech Community College.

They are among eight students who will receive associate of science degrees in nanotechnology at Ivy Tech's commencement ceremony tonight at the Joyce Center at the University of Notre Dame.

It's the first graduating class of nanotechnology students since the degree program launched here in 2011, and the only nanotechnology associate degree program in Indiana.

Nanotechnology involves research and technological development at a scale so tiny it's measured in nanometers -- billionths of a meter. It creates and uses structures that have novel properties because of their size, and it offers the ability to manipulate individual atoms and molecules. The Ivy Tech degree program was developed in partnership with Notre Dame, which increasingly is pursuing nanotechnology research.

"The future is bright for what we're doing. The field has a lot of potential," said Mochel, 23, a 2009 Marian High School graduate.

F Cubed produces bio-chips capable of detecting target DNA in blood and other samples. The technology is designed to speed up the average diagnosis of flu, strep throat and other illnesses as well to determine whether a body of water is contaminated. The company is growing and plans to move to Ignition Park near downtown.

Mochel attended Purdue University for two years after high school, but hadn't settled on a major, so he moved back to South Bend. He learned about the new nanotechnology degree program and enrolled.

He interned at F Cubed last summer and, like his two classmates, has been a full-time employee at the firm since August.

"I was fortunate that someone told me about this (degree) program," said Mochel, who said he'd recommend it to others. He plans to continue his education, going on for a bachelor's degree and perhaps a master's degree in engineering.

Johnston is happy working in a new field at a business startup.

"I didn't see many women at Ivy Tech in this field," said Johnston, a middle-age mother of two grown children.

She enrolled in the nanotechnology program as a career change after earlier jobs with the city, in banking and in information technology. She already had an associate degree in electronics and a bachelor's degree in organizational management.

Johnston enrolled while her daughter was still in high school, in part as a challenge to earn a new degree as her daughter was moving into the adult working world.

Szajko, 33, graduated from LaSalle High School, served in the U.S. Marines, then worked at warehouse jobs. He read about the nanotechnology program in the newspaper, and decided to enroll.

"I like having hands-on work and visual results. I like the variety," Szajko said. "Hopefully Ignition Park will take off and there will be a lot more demand for these kind of jobs." The skills the students learned at Ivy Tech were just what F Cubed was looking for, according to company owner, President and Chief Executive Officer Les Ivie.

Companies that hire employees with bachelor's and master's degrees only often find those graduates don't know how to fix or program robotics equipment used for delicate research and production, he said. "The Ivy Tech students have been taught to do that," he said.

And the skills the graduates have aren't exclusive to the field of nanotechnology, Ivie said. "They could work well in quality labs at many other companies," he said.

F Cubed has 17 employees and plans to add more, so Ivie is keeping his eye on upcoming Ivy Tech graduates.

A graduate with an associate degree in nanotechnology is qualified to work as a technician, helping with research and maintaining expensive high-tech equipment in nanotechnology clean rooms and other highly specialized laboratory environments. The students here learn on state-of-the-art equipment at Ivy Tech and also spend time in Notre Dame's clean room.

About 12 to 15 students each year start the nanotechnology degree course work at Ivy Tech, although not all last through to earn the degree, said Sam Agdasi, professor and chair of Ivy Tech's nanotechnology program.

He's pleased with the accomplishments of this year's eight graduates, and hopes more will land jobs at firms like F Cubed. "We would like to have more of these kind of companies in town," he said. 574-235-6329 Twitter: @mfosmoe ___ (c)2014 the South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Ind.) Visit the South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Ind.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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