The NACTEC House is crawling with CATS. No, not the cute, cuddly, furry type. These CATS are more closely related to the kinds of machines that make or grade your roads and runways or dig new foundations for buildings. That’s right, the NACTEC House is now home to eight brand new, state-of-the-art Caterpillar Simulators.
Climbing the stairs to the second story of the NACTEC House opens to an impressive sight. Walls are covered with 42 inch televisions. Authentic Caterpillar equipment in the form of seats, steering wheels, controls, and diamond plate floor panels fill the space that used to be an open game room. The game has changed. Now, after an intense day of focused academic classes, students can schedule time in the seat of an off-road dump truck, front-end loader, excavator, or grader. It is fun, but also educational.
The simulators help students learn how to operate the different vehicles by first helping them learn the basic controls and then having them perform different tasks that simulate job sites and training courses. The computers automatically keep track of how well students do, record the results, and then give a more difficult challenge. The teachers and monitors can then see the progress made and the interest level of each student. This information guides students toward more training in construction or heavy vehicle operator training.
NACTEC’s focus is on career exploration. While NACTEC does not provide professional vehicle operator training, it does offer the first exposure to heavy equipment operation for most students. The response has been very positive. After spending time on the CAT Simulators, quite a few students have added “heavy equipment operator” to their career interest profiles.
Doug Walrath, NACTEC Director, said that the idea for the simulators came from some of NACTEC’s partners. Superintendent of Nome Public Schools, Jon Wehde, President of Kawerak, Loretta Bullard, and Heavy Equipment Operator and NACTEC Advisory Board member Martin Aukongak of Golovin mentioned the need for heavy equipment operator training as a strong need in the region. Dr. Walrath discovered the Caterpillar Simulators and saw the potential for tapping into student interest in video games as well as fulfilling a real and expressed need. Siu Alaska Corporation and Bering Straits Native Corporation helped provide funding for the new simulation center.