Meet the Faculty: Justin Starr
Assistant Professor of Mechatronics
Year Joined CCAC
2015 as an adjunct, 2019 full time
Courses Currently Teaching
Mechatronics, Robotics, Electronics Technology
Most Memorable CCAC Experience
Many years ago, I started my college career as a CCAC student. When I was hired as a faculty member, I ran into some of the same professors that I had back in the day. Not only were they still teaching, but they looked exactly the same! Something about working here keeps people alive!
That said, it would be hard to top the spring 2020 semester for a memorable experience, when almost all of our courses were seriously changed by COVID-19. When the campuses shut down, I told all of my students that I understood that nobody signed up for the coronavirus or remote instruction, but as long as everybody stuck together and gave their full effort, we'd all get through it as a class. I explained that some assignments might not apply anymore and we might have to try some new activities, but we would collectively adapt and make it work. Without exception, every robotics and electronics student stepped up and put forth a tremendous amount of effort to continue learning. We tested new labs, experimented with field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) and really pushed the limit of what was possible for student projects. Not everything worked 100%, but everyone showed up to class excited to learn, figured out how to present on Zoom, and juggled online learning in addition to managing households and families impacted by the pandemic.
I know that the experience was definitely unique, but all of my students exceeded my expectations, and I hope that they felt empowered by how well they handled the experience. Despite our best plans, life has a way of being unpredictable, and if students could face engineering classes in the middle of the coronavirus, I know they'll be able to handle the challenges and hurdles that a technical career will throw at them.
Why I Teach What I Teach
Machines were created to make our lives easier. Everyone should feel comfortable taking things apart and modifying or repairing their tools to enable them to act in different ways. All too often, we throw something away or pay a professional to dig into it, not because we don't have the skills, but because it is easy to be intimidated by high-tech devices that are not always easy to open. A little bit of understanding can go a long way. Teaching courses in electronics, programming and mechanics helps people take control of their tools- adjusting the brakes on a bicycle, replacing the battery in their phone and even creating entirely new things. I've had students engineer a solar installation to power a greenhouse, program an Arduino microcontroller to make a remote control dog feeder and even use transistors to transmit sound via laser beams.
That same approach to creative, hands-on problem solving is in high demand with employers. When I was Chief Technical Officer (CTO) of a local robotics company, it was difficult to find technicians who were comfortable soldering, programming and troubleshooting components. When I joined CCAC, I had the opportunity to train students to be the employees I would have loved to have hired: students with a passion for dissecting devices, seeing what happens and hacking together awesome solutions. I love that I get to spend each and every day giving students valuable skills and the confidence to use them.
Something People Might Not Know About Me
When I was younger, I traveled across Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railroad. In my free time nowadays, I enjoy restoring vintage and historical computer systems.
"Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can't lose." -Bill Gates