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Getting to Know QCC’s Professor of Electronics Engineering Technology

June, 2020
  • Professor Jim Heffernan gives a robotic wave to the Class of 2020.
    Professor Jim Heffernan gives a robotic wave to the Class of 2020.

Many may know Quinsigamond Community College’s Professor of Electronics Engineering Technology, James Heffernan as the professor who made the amazing robotic binary graduation greeting for the Class of 2020 (with some key assistance from his wife Luisa). What many may not know is that for most of his adult life he has been educating students on the transformative powers of technology.

Locally educated in Worcester public schools (he attended Flagg St. Elementary School, Forest Grove Jr. High, and Doherty High School), Mr. Heffernan earned a BA in Mathematics from Assumption College and a BS in Electrical Engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute. After graduation from both colleges in 1985, he worked as an electrical engineer for Worcester companies Micro Networks and Allegro Microsystems. Then in 1990, he and his wife decided to fulfill a dream and traveled to Ghana, West Africa where they taught school for a year.

“I taught Electrical Principles at Normal Technical Secondary School and my wife taught English part-time. We had our 2-year-old son with us, and our daughter was born while we were there. This was something my wife and I had been planning to do since we were married in 1985. Living some place very different gives you a new perspective on the world. We had a great experience overall, the people were very welcoming, we loved the food, and I learned some of the traditional Ghanaian music,” he said.

Once back in the states, Mr. Heffernan continued to teach, working at Worcester Technical Institute (WTI), a post-secondary technical school that was part of the Worcester Vocational Technical School system. He worked there for eight years before it closed. WTI’s loss was QCC’s gain and in September 1999, he began his teaching career at QCC (in addition to earning a Master’s in Computer Science at Fitchburg State University in 2005).

“I had developed the Electromechanical Technology program at WTI to prepare graduates to work as technicians in high-tech manufacturing. WTI was closed in 1999, and many of the technical programs were brought over to QCC, along with some of the WTI faculty. Electromechanical Technology eventually became Electronics Engineering Technology - Mechatronics Option,” he said.

He said one of reasons he enjoys teaching at QCC is the diversity of students that you often find in a community college setting.

“I like the variety of students that we get - different socio-economic backgrounds, different ethnicities, different ages, etc. The older students have a positive impact on the younger students, and foster a more professional climate. And in the Electronics Engineering Technology labs, I like the fact that we can provide students with an authentic hands-on educational experience,” he said.

Throughout his years at the college, Mr. Heffernan has had many inspiring, compelling and outright funny stories. His favorite one involved a robotic hand, built by one of his students using the QCC Fab lab to 3D print all of the parts for the project.

“The fingers are controlled by a person wearing a glove that has flex sensors on it. I brought the hand to a QCC Open House for recruitment, and while demonstrating it, the middle finger got stuck, so when I closed my hand I was giving everyone the finger. Fortunately, we noticed quickly and were back to normal after a quick soldering job,” he said.

While certainly a funny story, it also demonstrates the amazing advances in the technology world and the growth the industry has seen.

“I am seeing an increasing use of automation and robotics in manufacturing and other areas, and a corresponding increase in demand for technicians that can troubleshoot electronic, electrical and mechanical systems,” he said, noting that over 75 companies in the region are hiring electronics and mechatronics technicians.

He encourages people looking for an exciting career to consider Electronics Engineering Technology and QCC.

“QCC offers a path to an exciting career that pays well, without getting saddled with large college loans. We have been seeing an increasing demand for 2-year technical graduates. And many companies will reimburse students that continue their education,” he added.

When not teaching students, Mr. Heffernan is busy playing keyboards in a few local bands (you might have heard him play in the QCC Faculty Jazz Ensemble; dancing salsa or swing with his wife; or camping, hiking, backpacking or running in the woods with his faithful dog Bo).