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Merced College drafting welcomes students from MJC defunct program
merced college pic
Merced College drafting student Robert Noriega begins creating dimensions around a house he made in his beginning AUTO CAD (Computer Aided Drafting) class. The Merced College drafting program hopes to pick up students from Modesto Junior College, which just cut its architectural, industrial technology and engineering programs. - photo by JONATHAN MCCORKELL / The Journal

Sonora resident Audrey Wynn is looking to change careers. The part-time funeral home beautician has attempted to explore a career change to interior design and drafting, but in recent years the classes she needed kept being cut at Columbia College and Modesto Junior College.

About one month ago the Yosemite Community College District Board of Trustees unanimously voted to completely dismantle numerous academic programs. On the list of cuts for next semester were architecture, engineering, communications graphics and industrial technology.

While the cuts were shocking, Wynn and numerous other students from MJC were already having trouble getting the classes they needed, and they saw the writing on the wall. So Wynn and other drafting/ design students decided to make the commute south to Merced College.

In recent months the Merced College drafting program has seen an increase of interest from MJC students. While a longer commute may be in store, about 30 minutes from Turlock and 45 from Modesto, the MJC cuts may be a blessing in disguise for drafting and engineering technician students.

Last summer the MC drafting lab completed a $30,000 modernization project. The old-fashioned drafting desks were replaced with 24 new computer stations, chairs, a Promethean interactive whiteboard and a 3D printer, which is cutting-edge industrial design and manufacturing technology. 

“In addition to our new lab we are expanding our curriculum to become revitalized, relevant and current to industry standards. Our goal is for students to leave here ready to enter the workforce far better prepared,” said drafting professor James Thornburgh.

Two years ago Thornburgh took over a program which had become out-dated. After the remodel last summer, he has focused his efforts on curriculum development and expansion. Unlike many other programs at colleges throughout the state, MC drafting is actually growing its list of classes from standard mechanical and architectural to Computer Animated Drafting programs.

Between the fall 2011 semester and spring 2013, the program will roll out six new classes, including civil drafting, sustainable architecture, advanced parametric modeling, production methods, rendering and animation, and a capstone design project.

Starting this fall certain students can take the production methods class, which explores materials and methods of parts and production equipment. Also civil design will begin this fall, in addition to eight other beginning, intermediate and advanced drafting classes. By spring 2013 the program will unveil a capstone design project class for soon-to-be-graduates. The class will teach students the steps in creating a new design by indentifying a need or problem, research, design, documentation and presentation of the design.

“The capstone project is really what students will be doing in the work force. They will get a grasp of what it takes to create a design from conceptual to completion and have that product ready for the buyer,” explained Thornburgh.

In recent months the improved drafting program has restructured its degree awards to better suit the workplace market. Replacing older degrees, students can now earn an Associate of Arts in Mechanical Draftsman, Mechanical Design, Architectural Draftsman and Architectural Design. Also a CAD (Computer Aided Drafting) Operator certificate.

The improved curriculum and atmosphere at the MC drafting department has begun to build dividends for students. Katie Lee, a MC freshman right out of high school, landed a job with a solar power company in Oakhurst. Lee, with only one full semester under her belt in the MC program, developed enough design and drafting skills to be hired as a solar structure designer.

“James (Thornburgh) is a good teacher, he is very thorough. I had no previous experience with drafting but so far my job has been a fun learning experience and I’ve been able to use my training at my work. I take sketches and make designs and then give those designs to engineering,” said Lee.

Recently, the program was awarded a workforce development grant for current industrial needs. With the grant the program will hold training for local companies like Dole and Laird Manufacturing. On top of the training MC will receive another 3D printer, new industry design software, a 3D scanner and a hand-held 3D scanner.

Local manufacturing and design companies have begun to take notice of the drafting program. This year an electronics display manufacturing company in Atwater, Digital Factory, has hired student interns from MC and even made monetary donations to the program.

Thornburgh is excited with the progress of his work.

“My first year the goal was getting the new lab, then this year it was developing curriculum and next year it will be reaching out more to the community and local industry,” said Thornburgh.

“In the coming weeks we will begin working with Buhach High School’s new Engineering Academy to develop the junior and senior curriculum,” explained Industrial Technology Dean of Instruction Jim Anderson.

While the program seeks to expand its curriculum and develop talent, class sizes will not increase and the number of those classes also will not increase. New classes and advanced drafting classes will alternate semesters and basic classes will continue each semester.

“As much as we would love to expand the number of students we can take, the short answer is we can’t. The budget isn’t there with all the cuts,” said Anderson.

Fortunately for former MJC students, advanced drafting classes often have open seats, unlike many other majors. However seats in beginner level classes are likely to become more competitive.

For more information on the Merced College Drafting Department, visit

To contact Jonathan McCorkell, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.