By   Penny Brown, Director, AMT Marketing & Communications

We got some exciting news recently with the announcement of the MTConnect Student Challenge’s Idea Creation winner. Alexander Lee, a student at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, N.C., took home first place (and $5,000) with his idea to use a Raspberry Pi single-board computer as an MTConnect adapter on a legacy CNC controller (in this case, a Sinumerek 840D) to record machine cycle data. The Raspberry Pi collects the data, MTConnect and the Python programming language process the data, and finally the data is visualized through an open-source Python-based application.   

As Lee notes in his submission, the Raspberry Pi has found widespread use in education and home automation projects, but it has very little presence in industrial applications. However, it is inexpensive – just $35 – and it has unique capabilities that could make it useful on the shop floor. 

This was exactly what the MTConnect Student Challenge was designed to do. The idea was to present real-world manufacturing challenges to students, who could utilize their creativity and technical know-how to design solutions. Lee’s submission is cost-friendly and can be easily adopted even by smaller manufacturers with limited means. 

I think what I like most about this story, though, is that Lee beat out submissions that came from Clemson, Virginia Tech, UC-Berkeley, and Michigan. If you’ve ever thought that community college is a lower-tier education, I hope this helps to turn around your perception.

Here are a few facts about community colleges:
  1. Tuition and fees at public four-year colleges were nearly three times that of community colleges in the 2014-2015 school year, according to the American Association of Community Colleges. Additionally, students attending public community colleges are less likely to take out loans, according to the College Board.
  2. Research from the Aspen Institute says that community colleges are more flexible than other educational institutions in adjusting their curriculum, class schedules, and even class locations to meet the needs of local employers and the workforce.
  3. The Century Foundation found that between 1999 and 2009, funding for community colleges increased just one dollar per student. Meanwhile, per-student funding at private research universities jumped almost $14,000.
Community colleges do a lot to bring education to underserved populations, including low-income students, minorities, nontraditional students, and veterans. But they still suffer a stigma of “not good enough,” and their lack of resources echoes this. If we want to create a skilled workforce and create upward economic mobility, shouldn’t we put attention toward the institutions that will help us get there?

Are you a proud community college graduate? I want to hear from you! Email me at