‘What’s so cool about man­u­fac­tur­ing?’

OJR Mid­dle School par­tic­i­pat­ing as part of new STEAM class

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - BUSINESS - By Nancy March

What’s so cool about man­u­fac­tur­ing?

Plenty, ac­cord­ing to Ch­ester County school and busi­ness of­fi­cials team­ing up on a stu­dent video con­test of the same name.

The con­test pairs teams of stu­dents out­fit­ted with GoPro cam­eras with lo­cal man­u­fac­tur­ing busi­ness part­ners to pro­duce videos about in­dus­trial work. The statewide theme for this year’s con­test, “What’s so cool about man­u­fac­tur­ing?” re­lates to Fri­day’s ob­ser­vance of Man­u­fac­tur­ing Day, which in turn is a project of the na­tional DreamItDoIt ed­u­ca­tional ini­tia­tive.

Eight Ch­ester County dis­tricts, in­clud­ing Owen J. Roberts and Phoenixville Area, are par­tic­i­pat­ing in this year’s con­test. Last year, Phoenixville’s high school team was among the win­ners of the video com­pe­ti­tion.

This year’s con­test in­volves stu­dents in mid­dle schools in keep­ing with a coun­ty­wide theme of in­tro­duc­ing stu­dents at younger ages to the ca­reer pos­si­bil­i­ties in man­u­fac­tur­ing.

The goal is to in­tro­duce stu­dents to jobs op­por­tu­ni­ties, in par­tic­u­lar tech­ni­cal and en­gi­neer­ing jobs, be­fore they choose their cour­ses for high school, ex­plained Alan Slobo­jan, project con­sul­tant for Ch­ester County Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Coun­cil and the Man­u­fac­tur­ing Al­liance of Ch­ester and Delaware Coun­ties.

“The con­test brings aware­ness of ad­vanced man­u­fac­tur­ing through the eyes of our stu­dents,” Slobo­jan said. “They’re

“They’re learn­ing about the wide range of ca­reers avail­able in man­u­fac­tur­ing to­day, right here in Ch­ester County.” – Alan Slobo­jan, project con­sul­tant for Ch­ester County Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Coun­cil and the Man­u­fac­tur­ing Al­liance of Ch­ester and Delaware Coun­ties

learn­ing about the wide range of ca­reers avail­able in man­u­fac­tur­ing to­day, right here in Ch­ester County.”

These aren’t your fa­ther’s fac­to­ries, he adds. “When peo­ple hear man­u­fac­tur­ing, they think of the fac­to­ries of the past — steel fac­to­ries and the smokestack fac­to­ries.” To­day’s “clean rooms” are vastly dif­fer­ent.

“Peo­ple go by these build­ings and have no idea what’s go­ing on in­side,” Slobo­jan said. “They look like of­fice build­ings, but they are man­u­fac­tur­ing.” They’re mak­ing in­dus­trial parts and ap­pli­ca­tions rang­ing from aero­nau­tics to phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, he said.

Also un­like the fac­to­ries of years past, they de­mand highly spe­cial­ized tech­nol­ogy and en­gi­neer­ing skills. “By vis­it­ing these fa­cil­i­ties, stu­dents see the types of jobs — ap­plied en­gi­neer­ing, web de­sign, and also the sales and sup­port jobs that re­quire an un­der­stand­ing of how to com­mu­ni­cate about that tech­nol­ogy,” Slobo­jan said.

The busi­ness part­ner­ship pro­gram has shifted to the mid­dle school so that par­ents and stu­dents can re­al­ize “the aca­demic foun­da­tion needed for the jobs of the fu­ture,” he added.

Owen J. Roberts schools will be par­tic­i­pat­ing for the first time in the video con­test with a team of eighth-grade stu­dents in a new STEAM (Sci­ence, Tech­nol­ogy, En­gi­neer­ing, Arts, Math) in­tro­duc­tory course.

Pair­ing ca­reer ex­plo­ration with STEAM cour­ses fits with the dis­trict’s ca­reers strat­egy, ex­plained OJR Mid­dle School Prin­ci­pal Sean Burns. “Stu­dents get an idea of what is out there in the work­place from a ca­reer stand­point” so they can choose the study path that fits their goals, he said.

“Too often, we put ev­ery­thing in the same round holes of go­ing to a twoor four-year col­lege,” said Burns. “By see­ing what the jobs are, stu­dents can start now to pre­pare for a tech school route ver­sus col­lege readi­ness” if that’s what they are in­ter­ested in.

“The STEM in­dus­tries are the ones that will be hir­ing in the next 10 years,” added Jen Arm­strong, who teaches the 8th grade STEAM elec­tive. For stu­dents to see what lo­cal in­dus­tries are do­ing and what kinds of skills are needed is a phe­nom­e­nal ex­pe­ri­ence, she added.

“It’s not how much ed­u­ca­tion you have, but the kind of skills you have to fit into the work­place of the fu­ture,” said Slobo­jan. “Man­u­fac­tur­ing is an im­por­tant part of the vi­brant econ­omy in Ch­ester County and there is a grow­ing need for highly skilled work­ers,” he said, adding that many firms have an ag­ing work force that will need to be re­placed in the next decade.

The video con­test is one as­pect of ca­reers in­tro­duc­tion at the mid­dle school level. But in­tro­duc­ing ca­reers aware­ness is be­gin­ning much sooner, as early as kindergarten. At a re­cent OJR School Board meet­ing, Direc­tor of Pupil Ser­vices Holly Acosta ex­plained a re­quire­ment called Chap­ter 339 man­dates a guid­ance plan for dis­tricts be­gin­ning at the ele­men­tary level.

At OJR, the plan starts in the ele­men­tary grades with in­tro­duc­tion to jobs and what adults do at work and con­tin­ues in mid­dle school with busi­ness part­ner­ships and the STEAM teach­ing module. The goal is to help stu­dents de­ter­mine the cour­ses they should take for their ca­reer choices as they en­ter high school.

Par­tic­i­pa­tion in the county video project will in­volve five to seven stu­dents go­ing into a lo­cal busi­ness to film and record, but the en­tire STEAM class will par­tic­i­pate in edit­ing and writ­ing so that ev­ery­one ben­e­fits, Arm­strong ex­plained.

Busi­nesses ben­e­fit from the part­ner­ships as well, Slobo­jan said. “We want stu­dents who go away to school to bring their skills back here,” he said. “These pro­grams are to let par­ents and stu­dents know how to pre­pare for jobs in man­u­fac­tur­ing right here in Ch­ester County.”

He added, “This fits with the na­tional con­ver­sa­tion about bring­ing jobs back to the U.S. We’ve had com­pa­nies right here in Ch­ester County that have brought man­u­fac­tur­ing back from China, back from South Carolina. This is a very ex­cit­ing time.”

Ex­cit­ing for stu­dents, too, Burns noted. “We want to in­sure that we’re not clos­ing any doors but rather open­ing new ones right in front of them.” The go-to-col­lege route is still im­por­tant, but it may not be for ev­ery­one, he added. These pro­grams “show stu­dents the dif­fer­ent routes and options they can take.”

DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA FILE PHOTO

Owen J. Roberts High School stu­dents visit Omega De­sign Corp. in Uwch­lan in 2014 to learn about ca­reers in man­u­fac­tur­ing. Omega De­sign set up a se­ries of sta­tions for small groups of stu­dents to learn about the peo­ple and jobs that make up each de­part­ment as well as the skills, training, daily tasks and other re­quire­ments of the em­ploy­ees.

DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA FILE PHOTO

Owen J. Roberts High School stu­dents visit Omega De­sign Corp. in Uwch­lan in 2014 to learn about ca­reers in man­u­fac­tur­ing.

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