By Melissa Keeney
Liberty, S.C. - Inside the Pickens Career and Technology Center, Hank Hutto's classroom is full of massive machines and impressive robots that students make look like child's play. "I thought, it sounded like fun, so I'll take it," says Brandon Hall, when he remembers how he was first introduced to Hutto's course.
This is the world of mechatronics, a class that students describe as a high-tech brand of trouble shooting in today's demanding industrial environment. "What I tell people is it's like industrial maintenance on steroids," laughs Hall. Truthfully, the class has helped Hall and fellow senior, Johnny Hayes, discover their dream jobs. "You don't have to sit in an office and do the same thing every day, you never really know what you're walking into," says Hayes.
Beyond their sharp skills, the two teens have something else to brag about lately: they just took home the state championship in mechatronics. The win adds to a sort of "dynasty" in Hutto's class, one that's produced state winners for the last six years in a row. "That's my payback. When they win, I win," he says. "The really neat part is you can give these guys a task and put them out where they can do something with their hands, away from a computer and a book, and they really run with it."
Aside from the bookshelf full of trophies and medals, Hutto says students like Hall and Hayes are giving him something else he can be proud of: future leaders in the industry. Hutto says many local companies, like BMW and GE, have gone on to hire his graduates. "That's the real reward," he says.
For now, Hall and Hayes have their sights set on another prize: bringing a national gold medal home to Pickens County. "It's all about having fun, but we want to come out of there and at least be top three," says Hayes. "No, we'll win it," jokes Hall.