Even before a state-of-the-art robot cut the blue ribbon to officially open UNH’s new John Olson Advanced Manufacturing Center, the crowd gathered there was focused on the future.
As UNH President Mark Huddleston aptly stated, however, this was also a day to honor UNH’s past — with a center named for a dedicated alumnus, John Olson ’57, and that center’s mission of training highly skilled workers for the manufacturing sector, right in keeping with UNH’s roots as the New Hampshire College of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts.
The center came into being thanks to a $5.3 million gift from Whelen Engineering Company to honor Olson, a longtime employee and company president. “None of this would have been possible without the Whelen family,” Olson told the crowd, recalling that fateful day when, as a young UNH graduate, he went to the Whelen property to fix a boiler. He was hired almost immediately as the company’s first full-time employee. Today, Olson said, Whelen Engineering has grown to some 1,900 staff members and is the world’s largest manufacturer of emergency warning lights. “UNH was my start,” Olson said. “I very much enjoy coming back and seeing what has happened here in the past 60 years.”
The Olson Center is focused on advanced manufacturing technologies and has been designed to help provide skilled employees for New Hampshire’s — and the nation’s — manufacturing sector in such areas as high-precision machining, light materials, flexible electronics and Industry 4.0.
“We’re very, very excited. This is going to be a great opportunity to educate the next generation of the workforce,” Dean Bartles, director of the John Olson Advanced Manufacturing Center, told the dozens of alumni, students and university, state and federal officials who gathered at 121 Technology Drive for the center’s opening on June 1.
Wayne Jones, interim provost and former dean of the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences (CEPS), discussed the importance of the hands-on experience students will gain there, citing the center’s evolution “from an idea to what is going to be a magnet for UNH and for New Hampshire as a whole." We have a great workforce in New Hampshire," he said, noting that even more skilled employees are needed in the future. "This is going to be a great opportunity for UNH for years to come," he said.
Taylor Caswell, commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Business and Economic Affairs, praised Olson for his years of speaking out about the importance of advancing educational opportunities in manufacturing. “The University of New Hampshire was listening,” Caswell said, adding, “Companies are coming to New Hampshire for this high-quality workforce.”
Frank W. Gayle, deputy director of the Office of Advanced Manufacturing at the National Institute of Standards and Technology echoed that need on a national level, praising UNH, Bartles and Brad Kinsey, professor and chair of mechanical engineering, specifically, since the national effort to bring manufacturing back to the U.S. relies on workforce development and education. “The connection with industry is essential,” he said, adding, “You have some great leadership here.”
Mike Locke ’18, who graduated from UNH just a few weeks ago, also spoke at the event as both a CEPS graduate and Bartles’ first full-time employee at the center.
“This really is the culmination of my UNH journey so far,” he said, describing exceptional UNH experiences and opportunities ranging from his work with STEMbassadors to forming a robotics team to the mentorship he received from Kinsey. “Thanks to the generosity of everyone who made this possible, UNH students will have hands-on experiences unmatched by any other university.”