A number of people walking into Eastern Oregon University’s Huber Auditorium late last month buckled their seat belts to impress a most meticulous evaluator.

The individuals were students in an introduction to heavy equipment class taught by the Baker City-based Baker Technical Institute. The students were preparing to operate heavy construction and excavation equipment by using simulators.

The simulators have software that accurately models the behavioral characteristics of road graders, excavators, bulldozers and wheel loaders.

Students received 40 hours of time working on the simulators over the course of four sessions during the class, which ended last week. A portion of their time was spent taking tests on the simulated machinery. Following the exams, the simulators generated evaluations for each student on everything from how well they changed gears, operated brakes, moved materials and efficiently used fuel to whether they fastened their seat belts.

“The only thing (the simulators) do not record is whether you have a heartbeat,” said David Frazey, a Baker Technical
Institute instructor.

He said the evaluations from the exams serve a valuable purpose.

“They give students a chance to see where they improved and what they can watch for,” he said.

The realism of the simulators is enhanced by images projected onto large screens of the machinery the students are operating.

“The video was taken in actual working conditions,” Frazey said.

A number of next summer’s BTI classes in La Grande will again be taught at EOU. The two schools are developing a partnership to address educational needs in the region, according to Tim Seydel, EOU’s vice president for
university advancement.

EOU will be providing space for BTI for its La Grande classes via this partnership.

Seydel said having BTI classes at EOU will be an excellent way to introduce students to the university.

“Having access (to EOU) will help them get a collegiate experience,” Seydel said.

Last month’s session was the final one for the Baker Technical Institute class. Scottianne Rebmann, of La Grande, was
impressed with how much she learned during the sessions.

“It definitely gave you a taste of what it is like,” she said. “It helps prepare you for the real deal.”

The BTI students had the opportunity to test their skills on actual construction and excavating equipment in late August at Triple C Redi-Mix Inc. in Baker City.

Christopher Breshears, of Imbler, said he felt comfortable operating the heavy equipment even though it was his first time.

“(The work on the simulator) definitely helped a lot,” he said. “I knew all of the controls.”

Breshears, who plans to take an advanced heavy equipment class later from BTI, hopes to someday run machinery for a logging company.

Rebmann’s experience on the equipment was also positive.

“It was awesome,” she said. “The familiarity I had was a huge bonus.”

She believes that other students had a similar experience.

“Everybody said (operating the equipment) was much easier than they anticipated,” Rebmann said.

She added that she appreciated the opportunity to get her initial bearings on a simulator.

“It is a lot safer to learn on a simulator than in the field. You get an opportunity to learn and make mistakes,” Rebmann said.

Frazey was impressed with the overall level of confidence his students displayed on the heavy equipment.

“(The experience with simulators) took away the intimidation factor,” he said.

Baker Technical Institute, which offers a wide array of classes in Baker City, will feature more training with its simulators later this year when its comprehensive heavy equipment operating equipment class begins. Students who successfully complete the advanced course will have the skills needed to be hired as heavy equipment operators, said Doug Dalton, president of BTI.

“They will be job ready,” he said.

The introductory heavy equipment class held in La Grande this summer was one of four offered by the Baker school. It also featured a Women in Trade class and two nursing assistant courses.

Dalton said all the courses taught in La Grande this summer will be held next summer plus others including a welding and a wilderness medicine class.

“We are working with local industry partners to learn what the workforce development needs are (in La Grande) and will tailor our classes to meet these needs,” Dalton said.

Contact Dick Mason at 541-786-5386 or dmason@lagrandeobserver.com . Follow Dick on Twitter @lgoMason.