Talking technology, jobs and the future at Community Connections

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In October of 2013 LabCorp offered a reporter, editor and publisher for the local newspaper an opportunity to tour its massive testing laboratories on York Court in Burlington. I was fortunate enough to be part of it. The highly structured tour occurred at night, after 7 p.m., just before the overnight shift arrived for work. It was a detailed walkthrough and explanation of how the medical testing giant based in Burlington operates.

Some parts of the sprawling facility were off-limits – LabCorp, like any research and medical company has its corporate secrets – but we did get to witness how specimens flown in from all over the nation are handled to determine the presence of cancers or other diseases. The labeled samples go through a sophisticated process starting with the original samples supplied by physicians or medical offices hundreds of miles away then delivered by air to Burlington.

To say it was fascinating is an understatement. It’s an incredibly complex system that I also note was and still is highly automated and dependent upon robotic technology and computers – not to mention the skill it takes to make those operations run smoothly.

I thought about the LabCorp tour in late summer as we began to plan the Community Connections forums for this school year at Elon. Community Connections is a program co-sponsored by the university – my current employer and the Burlington Times-News – my former employer. Tom Arcaro, one of our original Community Connections founders and a professor of sociology at Elon, recommended a session on artificial intelligence or technology and its impact on the workplace now and in the future. It sounded like a great topic for our fall forum. I had already seen some of this evolution in action. I’ve also seen the growth of STEM programs, mechatronics at Alamance Community College and the rise of the maker movement, including a hub in downtown Burlington.

So we will explore all of this and more at 7 p.m. Oct. 23 in Lakeside Meeting Rooms on the Elon campus. Admission is free to all and the public is invited to not only attend but participate with questions and comments. The title for this forum is: “Technology, the workplace and the future.” It’s described this way on the Elon website.

“How is technology creating a new American workplace and workforce? Although once thought the stuff of science fiction, people are being replaced by computers in many areas of our lives. Join our conversation where we will address how artificial intelligence, automation, and robots are influencing how we work and live.”

That’s a lot of ground to cover in an hour and 15 minutes. The forum ends at 8:15 p.m. followed by refreshments and more discussion afterward.

So far we have assembled three participants to take part in our panel and may add a fourth. Our experts are from the fields of business, law and science and technology. They include:

Roland Roberts is an instructor in Mechatronics Engineering Technology at Alamance Community College. He graduated from Bucknell University with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering; received a master’s in Computer Integrated Manufacturing Technology from Brigham Young University and a law degree from Capital University Law School. He is licensed to practice law in North Carolina and worked for one company under the following names: Western Electric AT&T, Lucent Technologies and Alcatel-Lucent where he focused on automation design for specialized manufacturing equipment and automated product testing. He moved into education in 2009 with ITT Tech, teaching Information Systems, Electrical Technology and Criminal Justice classes. Roberts joined the N.C. Community College system in 2011.

Drew Simshaw is a Legal Method and Communication Fellow with the Elon University School of Law. He previously taught at Georgetown Law in its communications and technology law clinic, where he served as a staff attorney with the Institute for Public Representation, advocating for public interest organizations before federal agencies and in litigation before federal appellate courts.  He researches and publishes in the areas of communications and technology law, focusing on the regulation of emerging technologies and the ethical implications of technology in the practice of law. He earned his B.A. from the University of Washington, his law degree from the Indiana University Maurer School of Law and will earn his LL.M. from Georgetown Law this fall.

Gayle Bieler is a senior statistician and director of RTI International’s Center for Data Science. She leads a group of data scientists, statisticians and forecasters who collaborate with RTI researchers. They use data science to solve problems and improve decision-making for projects involving government, foundations and commercial spaces. She has a master’s degree in statistics from Boston University.

In one program change to this year’s Community Connections, an Elon professor will offer an introduction to the topic. Tony Crider, associate professor of physics at Elon will fill this role at our first forum. He has a Ph.D in space physics and astronomy from Rice University and has a keen interest in space visualization. He has created virtual planetariums, telescopes and lunar landscapes within the 3D online world of Second Life.

William Moner, an assistant professor of communications at Elon will be moderator. Moner has B.S. and M.S. degrees from Duquesne University and a doctorate from the University of Texas at Austin. He’s taught mobile app design at Texas State Univeristy and digital media at the University of Texas. He was an instructor of web design and interactive media at the Art Institute from 2005 to 2012.

Moner will guide the flow of conversation throughout the forum and take questions from the audience.

This marks the fifth year for the Community Connections partnership between Elon and the Times-News. Over that period our topics have run the gamut from racism to health care, poverty and the future of politics. The program was created to help blend the campus and Alamance County communities and have meaningful and positive discussions about the important issues we face as a community, state and nation.

This will be the first year the forums have been held in Lakeside’s Meeting Room, which is on the second floor at the Lakeside Dining Hall. It is behind the Moseley Center where previous forums were conducted.

Be sure to follow the Times-News or the Community Connections, Continuing the Discussion Facebook page for more information or discussion about this and other forum topics. You can join our Facebook group simply by asking. Pretty easy, right.

See you on Oct. 23.

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