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Live! From inside a Machine Technology lab

In this series, we provide a closer look at hands-on learning during COVID-19.

While COVID-19 means online learning for most Tidewater Community College students, some are back in the classroom for hands-on training. In fact, more than 400 sections of classes in interior design, automotive, health professions, welding, veterinary technology, culinary arts, visual arts, electronics technology and other programs have on-campus components. 

A peek inside the Precision Machining Lab

Lathes. Computer numerical control mills. Measurement tools.

Students in Rick Dyer’s machining classes are hands-on with state-of-the art equipment at the Precision Machining Lab on the Chesapeake Campus. It’s the same stuff they’ll encounter in the real world.

Students complete the lab work at their own pace for several classes, including Machine Shop Practices (Machining 161) and Cooperative Education in Machine Technology (Machining 297).

In the basic course, they learn safety procedures and master hand tools, precision measuring instruments, drill presses, cut-off saws, engine lathes, manual surface grinders, and milling machines.

Steve Toi doing precision work.

“Tonight, we’re making a motor shaft, gauge blocks and drill gauges used for sharpening drill bits,” Dyer said. “We’re thrilled to be back in the space because trying to learn online is tough. You have to see it and feel it to really do this work.”

Safety remains a priority in light of COVID-19.

 “We have plenty of room to work and we are being diligent about cleaning the machines and tools between users,” Dyer said. “We’re using a plant-based disinfectant that kills germs but also protects the equipment from corrosion.”

 Student voices

Andrew Crowe

“This is an excellent program. With my full schedule it’s very helpful to have these labs in the evenings,” said Andrew Crowe, an IT tech in the Navy, retraining for a career as a metal worker. “I’m enjoying the interactions with classmates. It gets lonely teleworking at home, so this is a great distraction, and it’s preparing me for what comes after the military.”

“In here, you’re not working on a computer screen, and what you make you have in your hand. It either works or it doesn’t,” said Chris Smith. “We’re getting excellent instruction from Mr. Dyer, who is an expert in the field.” Smith is making a motor shaft and expanding his skills so he can get into fabrication. He currently works as an electrical engineering tech for the Coast Guard.

“I love working with machinery and making things,” said J.D. Evett. “I got away from this work 20 years ago, and I’m so glad to be back into it.” Evett is working on a surface grinder making a set of gauge blocks. He transferred to TCC after his program shut down at another college due to COVID-19. He said he is grateful to continue learning to get closer to his goal.

“It’s still surprising to see the tool come to life when we cut it,” said Carter Casady, a dual-enrolled high school sophomore from Kellam High. “I’m enjoying the machining as well as actually being in a lab and talking to other people.”

Good to know

The Precision Machining Lab prepares students for work in advanced manufacturing on the seven basic machine tools: turning machines, shapers, and planers, drilling machines, milling machines, grinding machines, power saws, and presses.

The lab includes computer numerical controlled mills, lathes, and surface grinders, along with numerous manual machine tools.
The lab is used by TCC students studying Machine Technology, Mechatronics, Maritime Technologies and Engineering.

About the instructor

Program lead Rick Dyer with JD Evett.

Rick Dyer studied machining at Southeastern Regional Technical High School and completed his journeyman certification in 1981.  He served 22 years in the Navy as a machinery repairman.  After retiring, he worked for Newport News Ship Building as a planning engineer until accepting a teaching position with Norfolk Public Schools.

He studied career and technical education at Old Dominion University and holds a master’s in community college education.  He has been at TCC since 2007, teaching engineering graphics, manufacturing and mechatronics at the Chesapeake and Virginia Beach campuses. In 2019, Dyer became the program lead for the Machining Technology Program.

 Sign up

To learn more about TCC’s hands-on career and technical programs, including Machine Technology, email Dyer at or email or call 757-822-1111.