Technology students in the Eagle Mountain-Saginaw school district are learning that it pays — very well, in fact — to excel in math and science.
The students are in the manufacturing engineering program at the Hollenstein Career and Technology Center, which recently became the first in Texas to earn a PRIME (Partnership Response in Manufacturing Education) designation from the national Society of Manufacturing Engineers.
Hollenstein was chosen after an intensive, year-long process that included multiple interviews and site visits, said Josh Cramer, senior educational program officer for the society’s Education Foundation.
The number of PRIME schools has grown to 38 in 22 states over the past five years, Cramer said.
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“We have what they want all high schools to model themselves after,” said Dana Eldredge, director of Career and Technical Education for the Eagle Mountain Saginaw district.
Over the past three years, the manufacturing engineering program has grown from a handful of students to 41. The program is now at capacity and students from the district’s three high schools must participate in a lottery to enter it, officials said.
Other programs offered at Hollenstein include health science technology, legal and protective services, media technology, culinary arts, advanced manufacturing, automotive technology, planning and construction, cosmetology, automotive repair, information technology and digital electronics.
As a PRIME school, Hollenstein is eligible for scholarships, grants for equipment and software. Also, more networking opportunities are available for students.
“We have the ability to be in an organization that’s going to give us relationships with the industry and with those experts,” said Eldredge. “Our kids can meet with those people and get an even deeper understanding of the industry. And they’re networking. They’re making connections — and that’s really what’s going to push them forward.”
The annual salary for architecture and engineering jobs was about $83,000 in 2015, according to the website of the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. In contrast, the average median annual wage for all other occupations was $48,000.
Engineering jobs are opening up based on two main factors, said Cramer. One is an aging and retiring engineering workforce. The other is a gap in the technology skills needed for today’s engineering jobs.
“PRIME is a national network and we look at every different setting across the country,” said Cramer. “In Texas, there is a booming aerospace industry. We also see a big need for mechanical, electrical and petroleum engineers.”
Integrated Machining Solutions of Azle, Trinity Industries of Fort Worth, General Aviation Industries of Weatherford and Alexander Machining of Fort Worth are some of the companies that are partnering with the program.
‘Actually leading projects’
The education students receive at Hollenstein provides a foundation for just about every aspect of engineering work — biomedical, mechanical, and chemical, said Demetrius Anthony, a manufacturing engineering teacher at HCTC.
“They can pretty much go anywhere,” said Anthony. “They can do design work, and a lot of the students are more geared toward the CAD side of it and doing the actual design. A lot of them like to get in and do more hands-on with the equipment. Some of them like doing more of the supervising side of it. They are actually leading projects.”
In the classroom, students begin by learning to work with CAD (computer-aided drawing) and CAM (computer-aided manufacturing) software.
“That is the foundation for everything we do,” Anthony said. “For everything they want to make, we have to do drawings for. From there, we get into 3D printing, and they start building prototypes. They learn a lot before we actually start working with metal or plastic or aluminum; before we actually get into making a product.”
Students go on to work in Hollenstein’s manufacturing engineering lab. The lab features professional equipment such as CNC (computer numerical control) mills, CNC lathes, CNC plasma cutters and 3D printers.
The manufacturing engineering program is two years, and students typically start as juniors, Anthony said.
“When seniors come in, we give them a crash course,” Anthony said. “They have to pick it up really fast. By the end of the first semester, we start looking at competitions. We line everybody up with something they’re going to be successful at, based on their strengths.”
‘It gets really simple’
During a recent class, students in the manufacturing program were working on assignments and preparing for upcoming competitions.
“We go into the classroom and go on the computer to draw up a 3D model design,” said student James Holden, a senior who was recently working on class project on a CNC mill machine.
“We basically make a drawing of it,” Holden said. “Once we make a drawing of it we hand write the program and reference all of the dimensions of the 3D model and then we basically put it into code.”
The process comes easy for Holden, who says he was a math whiz from an early age.
“I’ve always been a math type of person,” he said. “Ever since I was little, my parents knew right away that I was kind of a math head. I’ve always been in advanced math classes.”
Computer coding that is fed into the machines is all written from scratch, he said.
“It looks very complicated, but once you get into it and start working at it, it gets really simple,” Holden said. “It’s like learning a language. The machine reads it and it tells the machine what to do, step by step. You can make anything you want. It’s just a matter of putting in the right dimensions.”
The CNC mill machine uses cutting tools to make parts out of a variety of materials.
Classmate Katelyn Grooms, a junior, is working on designing a car frame.
“I’m more interested in the mechanical side of it,” she said. “I also know how to write the programs that run the machines.”
Building robots from scratch
Jordan Nunn, a senior, demonstrated how he uses a remote control to navigate a small robot around the engineering lab.
The robot is designed to work like the same equipment the police or military uses for recovering explosives or other dangerous materials, said Nunn. He worked on the project with classmate Alice Meyer, a junior.
“It has a camera attached to it,” Nunn said. “It can get in there and see into areas where people typically can’t.”
Nunn and Meyer placed first last weekend in a SkillsUSA state robotics competition in Corpus Christi. In all, 45 students from Hollenstein competed at SkillsUSA, earning 12 medals. Five students, including Nunn and Meyer, will represent Texas at the SkillsUSA National Contest in Louisville, Ky., in June.
The students built the robot from scratch, said Eldredge. During the competition, students use a monitor screen to navigate the robot through a mock 12-by-12 foot building that includes stairs, ramps, and other obstacles.
‘Always pushing for college’
Wyatt Shanks, a senior, and Darren McIrvin and Hunter Greenwood, both juniors, designed a class project with a practical flair. They built a stand that holds a clothes iron with its plate facing up. A copper plate is then placed on top of it so it can heat up food.
“You pretty much could have a stove in a college dorm without breaking any cooking rules,” Shanks said.
All of the training and networking means that students have the skills to enter into careers right after graduating from high school.
But Anthony still stresses the importance of going to college.
“I’m always pushing college,” said Anthony. “I tell students that if I help you get a job, my only requirement is that you take one or two classes at TCC (Tarrant County College) or wherever it is. I still want them to get that college experience.”