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Transform American Education and Transform the American Economy

Jeff Bott, Manufacturing Engineering Instructor; Michael Geist, Manufacturing Engineering Instructor; Tom Steinbach, Advanced Manufacturing Engineering Instructor, Wheeling High School.

Wheeling High School is one of the high schools in the USA chosen to be an SME Partnership Response in Manufacturing Education (PRIME) School which requires exemplary manufacturing curriculum, skilled and dedicated instructors, engaged and active students and connectivity to the local manufacturing base.

(l-r) Kevin Muck, Division Head Career, Technology, Physical Education & Health and Dr. Lazaro Lopez, Principal, Wheeling High School.

Wheeling High School students fabricated the sign displayed as you enter the door of the high school. It is the school logo. It was a middle school student who learned the equipment and then came back as a freshman and started in the program. He was the one that actually lead the design and manufacturing of that created the sign as well as the SME PRIME foundation sign also displayed.

Wheeling High School manufacturing engineering students with Tom Steinbach, Advanced Manufacturing Engineering Instructor.

Authored by John Gross, Editor & Publisher, MANUFACTURING NEWS

Wheeling High School in Wheeling, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, has transformed the way it prepares its students for future careers in manufacturing. It may just be that if a similar plan is adopted by other communities across the nation we could transform the American economy to better compete on a global stage while giving the next generation an opportunity to realize their potential.

I heard about this transformation while attending IMTS 2012 and decided to visit the high school and share with you what I learned. The school has a state of the art prototyping manufacturing lab, designed in cooperation with industry partners, and includes the latest advanced manufacturing technology with a 3D printer/rapid prototyper, Haas CNC lathes and mill, CNC plasma cutter, CNC training stations, robotic work station, surface grinder and more.

Michael Geist, manufacturing engineering teacher at Wheeling High School, told me the year was 2007 when school administrators made the decision to engage the local manufacturing community to identify the employment needs of the region. A partnership team was created between the school and local industry made up, at that time, of five individuals who developed a vision of where the school educational program needed to go. "Given the fact that Wheeling is so dominated by manufacturers, we realized that our engineering program really needed to have a manufacturing focus. So we identified local manufacturing resources that could help us prepare our students for careers in those areas," said Michael Geist.

"Our village and local industries around us were more than willing to participate on a panel and partnership team and we soon identified other resources that would provide funding, curriculum development, help determine the type of facility needed as well as a plan for the lab. The Tooling & Manufacturing Association (TMA), Society of Manufacturing Engineers Education Foundation (SMEEF), Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) and other organizations over the next several years hopped on board and helped us achieve the transformation we were seeking. Over the last six years we have been able to achieve a lot of recognition for our efforts, creating programs for students who can now follow many different manufacturing careers of their own choosing."

"Jeff Bott, another manufacturing engineering teacher at Wheeling High School, and I have worked together over the last six years with the partnership team to lay out the lab, plan the curriculum and create real world learning opportunities for our students."

"We are always taking into consideration the two categories of students we have, students that are college bound and students that are occupational bound or training school bound. We have made sure we provide opportunities and avenues for all students. The lab experience and curriculum at Wheeling High School creates motivation and provides opportunities for all students. There is also a crossover. College bound students who are going into engineering need to have access to tooling, machinery and manufacturing skills. If they are going into product design engineering they need to have the ability to utilize and understand the manufacturing process."

"Then you have the students who are going into the occupational areas. We help them understand that there are good jobs and opportunities today in manufacturing that they did not even know existed. These are high paying jobs. There are huge employment needs in advanced manufacturing. There are perceptions that these jobs have been eliminated and that manufacturing is a dirty world, that it has low paying jobs, that it is repetitive assembly type work, which is not the case today."

John Gross question: What roll did the members of the advisory committee play beyond giving advice? Do the students have opportunities to have hands on experience at those companies?

Tom Steinbach, advanced manufacturing engineering instructor at Wheeling High School answered: "We were able to set up internships or shadowing. We are trying to focus on both ends of the spectrum. A student can get an internship at a machine shop or a student can get an internship working with engineers. So the advisory committee has been very helpful in setting up those opportunities for the students. One of the other major focuses in the last couple years is women in the field. We have been trying to increase our enrollment of girls in the program, which we have done a pretty good job on. We are trying to get more girls working in the machine shop. They work on projects and after-school activities that we have at the shop."

JG: Tom, how long have you been the advanced manufacturing engineering instructor at Wheeling High School?

TS: "This is my first year. I came here from student teaching at another school in the district. I actually went to school here as a high school student. I went through the same program as they were building it. I was in one of the first classes that was able to use one of those machines as they were developing the program. It was the first year of 'Project Lead the Way' also. I was one of the guinea pigs and I am back."

JG: After you left high school what did you do?

TS: "I went to Illinois State University and majored in Technology Education to be a teacher in this area. I specialized in precision machining, mechatronics and robotics. I graduated in 2012."

JG: Currently is your job here, in addition to instructing, being a liaison with local industry?

TS: "Yes, between the advisory board, industry partners and Harper College. Harper College is our community college in the area that just started a manufacturing program this year. I am currently sitting on their board and manufacturer's boards also. We collaborate on what we can teach here to align with their manufacturing curriculum so our students here can not only get industry experience but can also get college credit for the courses and save them time and money."

JG: Let us say you have an incoming freshman, what year can they become involved in the manufacturing program?

TS: "They can become involved the first year of high school, or even before they come to high school. We have a program called 'Gateway to Technology'. It is a middle school program. High school instructors teach it Wednesday and Thursday nights. Middle school students come from schools all over the area. They get a basic manufacturing and engineering course to get their hands on all the fun stuff. Then they can start in their freshman year taking the 'Project Lead the Way' courses here. That gets their minds turning and gets them interested in the curriculum, seeing if that is the right path for them. We start really early, even before high school."

JG: At the middle school level, how is this presented so that you get this participation?

TS: "It is offered to students from 6th through 8th grade. We go out and talk about the program and what kind of activities they can be doing and what type of potential careers they could get into. Obviously, at the middle school level not all of them know what they want to do so we also advertise it as a fun class where they can build things and can work on computers and they can develop hands on skills."

JG: So what will the student do the first year?

TS: "The first year we do 'Project Lead the Way' and introduction to engineering design. Basically we talk about sketching and modeling. We use Autodesk Inventor and other Autodesk software on the computer and the students can use the computer to get their hands around the design process. They come up with an idea in their head and create it on the computer as the first step. They are modeling it in 3D on the computer. Further on we have a 3D plastic printer. So they go from sketching an idea they have in their head on a piece of paper to drawing it on the computer, creating it in 3D on the computer and then actually printing it out on the 3D printer. All of that goes into the first class. So they really get their hands on by coming up with the design in their heads and making it into a physical object."

JG: And the second year?

TS: "In the second year we have a couple different classes. They can either go into Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM), which is the manufacturing side of 'Project Lead the Way' or they can go into an architectural side and learn about architecture in Civil Architecture and Engineering (CAE).

In (CIM), students learn the basic principles and applications for machining technology and automation. Students then get the opportunity to work in our machining/fabrication lab on the Haas CNC Mills and Lathes. We also have a Mini Mill in the classroom. This class puts a direct focus on the basics of the machining industry (G-Code, Feeds and Speeds) while the curriculum also touches on automation systems and mechatronics. Students can also choose to take Civil Architecture and Engineering (CAE) as well as Principles of Engineering (POE)."

JG: Then the third and fourth years?

TS: "The choice is made between the 2nd and 3rd years to go with CIM or Architecture. They can also take both. Most engineering bound students will also take POE either their junior or senior year. POE is a higher level engineering course. In this class, students take their engineering and machining theories and use them in practical applications. For example, students redesign a standard bicycle and turn it into a battery powered electric bike. Students assemble and manufacture components such as gears and sprockets, while simultaneously using wires, switches, and batteries to dabble into the electrical engineering portion."

"In the 4th year we have the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) program that I teach. This is the advanced manufacturing. A lot of the students we get are from the 'Project Lead the Way' program so they want more knowledge and more hands-on with the machines. That is what the NIMS program is for. We get them NIMS certifications and Manufacturing Skill Standards Council (MSSC) certifications starting this year. This was created to align with Harper College's curriculum. They are not only getting NIMS certification and MSSC nationally recognized certifications but they are getting college credit too. They are getting all these things in their Junior and Senior year of high school, and they are having fun on the machines. It helps students who are going to college because they get the college credit and it also helps students who are trying to raise some money to go to college. With the NIMS certification they can be hired by our industry partners. Employers are looking for the hands-on skills. Students who take all of the PLTW classes and then the Precision Machining Course (NIMS) at Wheeling High School have a significant advantage in industry (Engineering or Machining) and post-secondary education. Great engineers should know how products are machined, and great machinists should know how products are engineered."

I next visited with Dr. Holly Ravitz, assistant principal of student services.

JG: Dr. Ravitz, how many students are there at Wheeling High School?

HR: "We have over 1,900 students."

JG: How are middle school students exposed to the opportunity you have here to learn about advanced manufacturing before attending High School?

HR: "They need to be part of the 'Gateway to Technology' program."

JG: Early exposure is very important. How do they become a part of that?

HR: "The middle school screens the students. A high school teacher and a middle school teacher work together. We bus them here for three component courses, Manufacturing Design and Modeling, Magic of Electrons, and Automation and Robotics, all taught throughout the school year and summer."

JG: When they start their freshmen year do you and your staff meet with the students to discuss the advanced manufacturing program?

HR: "We meet with the students one-on-one when they are eighth graders along with their parents and do the plan of study with the incoming student. We talk about what the careers cluster opportunities are. This exploratory discussion for high school students shows the wheel of work available to them. We go over with the parents the wheel of work and talk about a plan of study. We talk about outside experience as a post secondary experience and what kind certifications can be obtained. For example, if a student said he/she wanted to go into the engineering area all of the engineering electives, drafting electives, advanced manufacturing program, all listed as well as NIMS 1 and 2 certification."

"The employment market is telling us that skill certification is the way of the future. Whether you get certification in high school or in college this is how a student begins their preparation for future employment. That is how we are marketing it to the eighth grade parents. So, yearly we meet with them and we talk about what courses they want to enroll in and how they will fit with the electives and career path they choose."

JG: Is there some testing or other criteria you apply to qualify a student for the manufacturing program?

HR: "Interest is the criterion. If they do not see themselves as college bound and they are going to stay in the Wheeling area it is clearly a skill that is needed by the Wheeling area manufacturing community. One of our success stories is a student who took Advanced Manufacturing because he really wanted to go on to computers in college. But he needed to have a job to be able to support himself while going to college. We have always believed that rather than working at a minimum wage you could work at a skilled job and learn and earn while you are going to college. So that goes back to obtaining skill certification in high school. Have something when you leave high school that will give you a job while you are going to college so you have a good way to support yourself."

"Wheeling High School is a comprehensive school with a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) focus," said Dr. Lazaro Lopez, principal. The school is also one of the high schools in the USA chosen to be an SME Partnership Response in Manufacturing Education (PRIME) School which requires exemplary manufacturing curriculum, skilled and dedicated instructors, engaged and active students and connectivity to the local manufacturing base."

JG: Dr. Lopez, you have seen significant accomplishments in the past few years. What direction will your manufacturing program take in the future?

LL: "What I can tell you is that I would like to expand our facility. What has provided a challenge for me is making a decision about which direction to go. Originally my view was that we would expand into micro manufacturing and nano manufacturing. Some of the feedback I have gotten from our industry partners is that micro manufacturing would be a more challenging space to expand into. Industry partners suggest we really should be moving into mechatronics and making sure the students have a good understanding of being able to program the robots and be able to understand the needs of that sector of the industry, automation."

"I know that there is a lot of value in expanding through web-based and virtualization software but I have got to tell you that there is nothing like actually running the machine itself. That is why we have invested in the equipment we have and the facilities that we have invested in. Our students would never see that if we did not have it at the school. The idea is for them to be able to make a product. Our long-term vision is to continue to make the connection between our students that believe they want to pursue engineering as well as students that believe they want to pursue manufacturing and continually integrating that because I think both of them can support the other. We have students that thought they wanted to go into engineering and are bright students and have now decided that they are very interested in pursuing mechanical engineering or an engineering degree that brings them more to a manufacturing facility. Students that maybe thought their career was going to be that they would go into a career where they would be a CNC operator may now think that they could become a mechanical engineer and get one of those two-year engineering tech degrees where they are motivated to reach beyond where they are. I continually want to create ways for both pathways to come together and integrate. Currently we have almost 300 students from 6th through 12th grade in both programs combined. So there are opportunities from both sides, and not to mention that engineering schools have a 50% attrition rate. That is in part because the students learn to design something but it does not mean that they can necessarily make it. It cannot be just theoretical; you also have to be able to see what if feels like to make something. We are going to be the first high school in the country next summer to open up a Nanotechnology science lab in the high school. I want the students to be thinking about and to be excited about this next innovation. Who knows, one of our students might be the inventor of the next big thing. And then they can donate back to the school."

"The students fabricated the sign displayed as you enter the door of the high school. It is our logo. It was a middle school student who learned the equipment and then came back as a freshman and started in the program. He was the one that actually lead the design and manufacturing of that as well as the SME foundation sign also displayed."

"Students leave the high school with a valuable skill and something they can use beyond just receiving a diploma. The idea that these students are going to walk out of here with up to 14 college credits, on their path to an associates degree in manufacturing technology as well as the NIMS certification in two or three areas, plus all four MSSC safety certifications, that is quite an accomplishment while you are still in high school. It gives you a real head start so that if you decide you are going to work right after graduation, you have a place to begin a career."

For more information contact:

Dr. Lazaro Lopez, Principal


Tom Steinbach, Advanced Manufacturing Engineering Instructor


Wheeling High School

900 South Elmhurst Road

Wheeling, IL 60090


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