Chelsea Bladow
North Dakota State College of Science to Launch One of the Nation’s First Autonomous Systems Technology Programs

The use of ground-based autonomous technologies is expected to grow exponentially in the coming years and North Dakota is working hard to lead the nation in autonomy, with a driving force being North Dakota State College of Science (NDSCS).

In the summer of 2020, NDSCS Professor Lonnie Wurst was approached by the college president to research how the college could expand their UAS program, adding courses related to autonomous technology. President Richman turned to Wurst because of his background with automation and mechatronics, serving as the Robotics, Automation and Mechatronics Program Coordinator for NDSCS since 2017.

Wurst began his research, looking into programs and attending seminars to learn more about the process of incorporating and developing autonomous technology into educational programs. In the process, Wurst discovered that everything he was finding was UAS specific. “Why is nobody talking about ground-based systems?” asked Wurst. “There are so many industries where autonomous technology is being utilized in ground-based systems, however, there is not a lot out there for comprehensive educational programs,” stated Wurst. Some of the industries that are currently utilizing autonomous ground systems include manufacturing, transportation, defense, and agriculture.

Wurst saw the need for an educational program that prepares students with the knowledge and technical skillset that companies are looking for. Presenting the idea to launch a certificate program, Wurst was determined to have the Autonomous Systems Technology program be one of the first in the nation. “Everything basically snowballed from there,” added Wurst. NDSCS considered the major impact that autonomous systems will have on the multiple industries and developed a 20-credit certificate program to help better prepare the future workforce. The Autonomous Systems Technology (AST) Certificate program, offered at their Wahpeton location is designed to provide students with the introductory technical knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to succeed in industries utilizing ground-based autonomous systems. 

This certificate program will give students an understanding of how the basic systems work, basic set up, and diagnostics. Designed to be multi-disciplinary, the AST program doesn’t focus on one specific area or industry, but rather provides students with the knowledge and skills that are transferable across different industry and career paths. Students are able to earn a certificate in AST while simultaneously working toward a degree or certificate in another NDSCS academic program option.

“Graduates with an AST certificate will have the knowledge and skills to go right into a career in the various industries that are using these systems,” Wurst stated. Autonomous technology across all industries and domains is evolving rapidly, and Wurst anticipates that AST graduates will be in high demand for many years to come.

NCAT Co-PI, Chris Hadfield serves on the advisory committee for the AST program. Hadfield is the Executive Director for the Minnesota State Transportation Center of Excellence, providing thought leadership on workforce development in the transportation industry. With NCAT’s focus on expanding educational resources to address current workforce demands, Hadfield has been an asset to the committee, helping to guide the development and implementation of the AST program at NDSCS.

The AST program launches Fall of 2021 and NDSCS is currently accepting applications for students interested in obtaining a certificate. Additional information about the program and how to enroll can be found online at or by contact Lonnie Wurst directly.

Contact Information
Lonnie Wurst
Assistant Professor/Program Coordinator
Autonomous Systems Technology (AST)/Robotics, Automation and Mechatronics Technology

July 6, 2021

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