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story.lead_photo.caption Texas A&M University-Texarkana faculty and administrators and AEP-SWEPCO employees pose with a check for $250,000 from American Electric Power Foundation on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019, on campus in Texarkana, Texas. Photo by Hunt Mercier / Texarkana Gazette.

TEXARKANA, Texas — Texas A&M University-Texarkana on Friday accepted a quarter-million dollar grant to fund a new digital design lab on campus.

The American Electric Power Foundation awarded the funds to the university's College of Business, Engineering and Technology for a computer aided design, or CAD, lab where students can learn how to use state-of-the-art digital technology in engineering. The foundation is part of electric power company AEP-SWEPCO.

University President Emily Cutrer thanked the company for its partnership and praised the students who will benefit from the grant.

"Our engineering department may not be the biggest, but it's the best," she said.

The foundation chose TAMUT's proposal over other candidates' because the grant will be put to very good use at the university, said Drew Seidel, SWEPCO's vice president of distribution operations.

"It was clear to me this would make a difference," he said, adding that CAD skills are essential at worksites such as SWEPCO power plants.

"Today, everything's electronic," Seidel said. "It's a skill set we've got to have."

Jennifer Harland, SWEPCO's external affairs manager in Texarkana, agreed.

"We need workers with these skills to attract new industry to our region, as well as retain our existing and expanding businesses," she said.

CAD uses sophisticated software to allow engineers to virtually design machines and other objects in three dimensions. The resulting designs are then used to fabricate actual objects, including by using 3D printing, technology that uses plastics and other raw materials to produce objects based on digital plans.

The new lab will be completed in two phases. The first will install 24 CAD workstations and an instructor lecture workstation. Large-screen video projection systems will also be included for instruction and display of project designs. Software available will include both CAD and computer-aided manufacturing, or CAM, programs. The lab will also include new 3D printers and a 2D printer to document and fabricate student designs.

The university will buy the workstations from local company Ledwell Manufacturing, said Kenny Irizarry, a general engineering lecturer who teaches CAD classes. To facilitate creativity and collaboration, the workstations are designed in clusters where students will work facing one another.

The lab's second phase will add more CAD workstations for a senior design lab, as well as a 3D scanner, additional 3D printers and a large-scale 2D printer. Also included in the second phase will be some robotics and process equipment that will link to the CAM portion of the lab.

"The lab will assist students in achieving their project assignment goals and contribute to community engagement through continuing education courses that empower students to become lifelong learners," Irizarry said.

The lab is expected to be installed and operational sometime in spring 2020.

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