By Tyler Leeds

The Bulletin

Central Oregon Community College is preparing to launch a program that will give students the ability to study everything from the strength of a bridge to the condition of underground pipes without using a drill or lifting a shovel.

The nondestructive testing and inspection program will launch next fall in the college’s Redmond Technology Center, which is under construction. Christopher Redgrave, director of COCC’s manufacturing programs, likes to describe the purpose behind his program using a medical analogy — if you fall down the stairs, would you rather have someone search for internal damage with an MRI or through surgery? As with an MRI, nondestructive testing uses technology to examine the integrity of industrial structures without having to physically alter them, a process likely to decrease their strength or usefulness.

“If you’re destroying something to find out if it’s any good, that’s a waste,” Redgrave said. “These methods are used in a wide variety of areas, from examining plane parts to looking at how underground pipes have been eroded.”

COCC’s program will be only one of nine in the country to offer an associate degree, and only the third in the Pacific Northwest. Some of the technologies students will study include ultrasonic testing, which looks at how sound waves move through an object, and Eddy current testing, which uses magnetic waves.

Redgrave noted there’s a large local and national need for trained inspectors, citing Redmond’s Precision Castparts-Schlosser, which makes complex titanium structures for airplanes and other uses, as the area’s largest firm. Keith Covlin, general manager of Precision’s Redmond site, said he employs about 50 people who do nondestructive testing. “We do a lot of training internally, but we also have to recruit nationwide,” Covlin said. “Having this program will definitely be a benefit. Right now, we’re also working on having some of Chris’ promising students work with us on an internship basis to get on-the-job experience.”

As the program grows, Redgrave hopes to offer working professionals the chance to develop further skills and more advanced professional ratings. To get things started, however, he has to pitch the program to local high schoolers.

“I tell high school students they’re a good candidate if they like puzzles, because what you’re going to do is akin to what you may see on ‘CSI,’” Redgrave said. “We use advanced methods to examine something. It’s great for students who want science and math, but also want to be hands-on.”

He anticipates the program will start with 12 to 20 students and hopes to see it near 50 a few years out. Redgrave believes the self-paced structure of the curriculum will be attractive to students.

“You’re not going to be going to lecture classes and taking notes,” Redgrave said. “You will come in during our open schedule and follow a checklist of tasks and skills. It’s more mentor than teacher based.”

This style mirrors other manufacturing programs at COCC, and although Redgrave thinks it generally helps students move along quickly, he also acknowledged some students run into trouble.

“We see students who are hyperfocused on one area, so they don’t move on to other subjects,” he said. “There are two main reasons for this, the first being that they really like the subject. The other being that they are afraid of another subject and are trying to put it off.”

When this happens, students run the risk of not completing their tasks before a set deadline. The school has systems in place to monitor the progress of students, helping to ensure this doesn’t happen.

“It gives great flexibility for students who need it,” Redgrave said. “And it develops a good work ethic by default. If you’re not pacing yourself and taking care to do everything, you won’t complete what needs to get done.

— Reporter: 541-633-2160,