Summer school is now in session, but this time it’s for the teachers.

A dozen local educators have spent the past week visiting local manufacturing companies, touring plants and getting a feel for the state of today’s manufacturing industry, all in an effort to better prepare their students for careers in the manufacturing world.

They are part of an externship program for Bartholomew County educators who teach in the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — that’s now in its second year.

Thanks to a specialized grant designed to meet the needs of statewide employers, the local educators had the opportunity to see more of Columbus’ manufacturing industry than they ever had before.

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Last year’s externship program gave six high school teachers the opportunity to tour the facilities of three local manufacturing companies — NTN Driveshaft, Cummins Inc. and Caltherm.

But this year, the EcO Regional Advanced Manufacturing Network, which sponsors the externship program, received about $1.8 million from the Indiana Department of Workforce Development through the SkillUp! grant program.

That money was used in part to expand the teacher externship experience, allowing two additional manufacturers — Dorel Juvenile and Faurecia — to open their doors to six additional educators, some from high schools, some from universities and some from guidance departments. While most of the visits were this week, some are also scheduled for the next two weeks.

“There’s been a lot of excitement and eagerness to see how we can figure this out and sustain this and move this forward,” said Stephanie Weber, EcO regional director.

Getting selected

This year’s group of 12 educators was selected based on requirements outlined in the SkillUp! grant, Weber said. The biggest requirement was that each of the educators have a focus in some area of the manufacturing industry by teaching manufacturing, technology, engineering or math courses.Additionally, Allison Korb, an agriculture teacher at C4 — Columbus Area Career Connection, was selected to be an extern because many students who pursue careers in agriculture will often still find themselves doing some sort of mechanical engineering or manufacturing work, Weber said.

The educators each said they began the week with one specific goal — to get first-hand experience in a manufacturing plant and to turn that experience into real-world examples for their students.

“Being able to relate the local manufacturing industry back to the classroom will be helpful,” said Andrea Gillett, a math professor at IUPUC.

Initially, that first-hand experience looked slightly different for each educator.

Korb, for example, said many of her students participate in an apprenticeship program at Cummins, so she wanted to get an inside look at the work her students do when they work as apprentices.

Austin Creasy, a mechanical engineering technology professor at Purdue Polytechnic Institute, is teaching a manufacturing systems course this fall. He took advantage of his time at Dorel Juvenile to get a feel for the layout of a real factory so that he could explain the flow of the manufacturing process to his students.

For high school guidance counselors Emily Tucker and Andy Taube, who work at Columbus North and East, respectively, their visits to local manufacturers were all about learning about the human resources side of the business — the education required to get manufacturing jobs, the salaries those jobs would pay and the opportunities for advancement.

But as they toured the various plants and saw the wide range of disciplines that are used in each of the five manufacturing plants, many of the educators discovered ways they could use classroom lessons to make students aware of a broader range of potential careers.

Observations open eyes

IUPUC chemistry professor J.D. Mendez, for example, said he was looking forward to visiting Faurecia most because he thought the company’s emissions control work would involve the most chemistry of any of the five manufacturers.But as he toured the Cummins Technical Center on McKinley Avenue, Mendez said he discovered that the work done by the city’s largest employer relates more to his work than he originally thought.

“I was surprised at how much chemistry there is at Cummins,” he said after watching engineers test engines and other products there.

Similarly, during their visit to NTN’s main manufacturing plant, Tucker and Taube learned about new educational programs that partner with manufacturers to help students prepare for manufacturing jobs.

Tucker, in particular, said she is new to the high school counseling profession, so having the opportunity to get a first-hand look at the city’s major industry will be an indispensable tool when she is helping students determine the skills they will need to learn to pursue their careers.

Local workers who are already employed by the participating manufacturers also said they appreciated the opportunity to share the skills they need in workers with the educators who will be equipping those workers for their careers.

Cummins employees Chet Mun Liew and Palak Patel said specialized knowledge of basic engineering principles and management would help most workers succeed in a job at Cummins, but they also stressed the importance of soft skills that all manufacturers require, such as teamwork, communication and interpersonal skills.

Most manufacturing companies are already active in recruiting future employees from local high schools and universities, and Weber said the externship program allows manufacturing leaders to cement that relationship with education leaders.

As the industry evolves, so will the needs of local employers, she said.

Through programs such as the countywide teacher externships, students can be kept up-to-date on the latest manufacturing trends, which will set them — and the local economy, as whole — up for a stronger future.

Manufacturing employers felt validated that their new machines and their new processes will be included in what the teachers are teaching the students, Weber said.

And teachers will be better preparing their students for the workforce, she said.

Teacher goals

Each of the teachers, professors and counselors selected to participate in this year’s STEM externship program outline certain areas of the manufacturing industry they wanted to focus on during their week in local manufacturing plants:

  • Andy Taube, Columbus East High School counselor: necessary job skills student should learn, required education levels, number of jobs available
  • Emily Tucker, Columbus North High School counselor: Teamwork, written/oral communication in manufacturing, necessary skills
  • Allison Korb, C4: Electricity, drafting, sales/marketing
  • Christopher Chappell, C4: 3D modeling software, role of drafters
  • Mike Riley, C4: Skilled trades/maintenance, automation and robotics, assembly/manufacturing, electrical work
  • Gary Taylor, C4: Emissions, exhaust testing, drive shaft, safety and testing
  • Austin Creasy, Purdue Polytechnic Institute: Material testing/dynamics lab, material removal processes, vibration/acoustic testing, CAD
  • James Mendez, IUPUC: How chemistry/stats are used to drive decisions, jobs-related to chemistry/stats
  • Julie Mendez, IUPUC: Heat exchangers, turbins, engines, pumps, mechanical engineering processes, programming
  • Guillermo Garcia, IUPUC: Skilled trades relevant in the manufacturing industries, examples of physics used during manufacturing processes
  • Andrea Gillett, IUPUC: How math is used in the workplace, problem-solving skills
  • Mathias Young, IUPUC: Necessary skills, statistical methods, data analysis, financial modeling

By the numbers

In Bartholomew County, 12 educators representing three educational institutions visited five local manufacturers.

Throughout the 10-county EcO region, 47 educators visited with 29 Indiana manufacturers.

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Olivia Covington is a reporter for The Republic. She can be reached at ocovington@therepublic.com or 812-379-5712.