$850,000 Grant allows Massachusetts College to Start RFID Program

Oct. 22--LOWELL, Mass. -- Using a grant of more than $850,000 from the U.S. Department of Labor, Middlesex Community College plans to establish a "radio frequency identification" program at its Lowell campus.

The new course offerings will make Middlesex a leader in an emerging field, said Barry Werner, the college's dean of computer and engineering technologies.

"We're reacting to a need that's coming," Werner said, "to be ready for it and start providing people (with skills)."

RFID is the technology used in the Fast Lane system on the Massachusetts Turnpike that allows drivers to cruise through toll booths while their fees are electronically tallied up. RFID is increasingly being used by retailers like Staples and Wal-Mart to track inventory, Werner said, and also has implications in health care and homeland security.

"If you're thinking about supply-chain management, when a factory loads goods, it can put a (RFID) tag on them," Werner said. "Then ? you have a record of where it goes." Ashley Stephenson, CEO of Chelmsford-based Reva Systems, told The Sun last week that RFID technology is about where the Internet was 10 years ago.

"People know about it, but we're still figuring out how to best use it," he said.

Reva, a 25-employee startup, is developing equipment that allows businesses using RFID technology to do so cost-effectively.

Students in the RFID program will learn to install and maintain RFID systems, and will get to use a Staples warehouse as a laboratory, Werner said.

Middlesex Community College in June applied for a federal grant in the amount of $853,736, and received exactly that. A total of $125 million in job-training grants was awarded to 70 community colleges nationwide, under a job-training program introduced by President George W. Bush in 2004.

"Community colleges are uniquely positioned to meet industries' needs for a well-qualified work force of tomorrow," Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employment and Training Emily Stover DeRocco said in a statement.

Werner said the money will be used to equip a laboratory in Lowell, hire a new faculty member, and provide administrative support. The RFID program should be in place next fall, he said.

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