They’re developing useful skills in three dimensions
Forrest center students learn in CADD program
Students enrolled with the production engineering and CADD programs offered at the Dr. James A. Forrest Career and Technology Center are gaining skills desperately needed by industries like manufacturing or design and construction, St. Mary’s public school staff said last week.
Students who graduate from either program are guaranteed articulated college credits with the coordinating programs at the College of Southern Maryland. The Forrest center is scheduled to host its annual expo event in January, and prospective students can meet peers and teachers from about two dozen programs at the event.
Ann Johnson, vocational support and teacher-in-charge, said she has contractors calling her office every week asking about how to better connect with students and hire them. She said skilled machinists
are needed across the country, but “particularly in this county” with the presence of the Naval Air Station Patuxent River.
She said she and other Forrest center educators are crafting a program that would allow students to intern or apprentice their senior year at a local defense contractor office or businesses seeking those with computer-aided design and drafting, or CADD, skills. It would be a “win-win” for the school and area manufacturers, Johnson said, adding that students would have the chance to work with professionals, build on the foundations learned at the Forrest center and potentially have their college education paid for if they gain employment at those offices.
Drew Evans, production engineering teacher, said during an interview last week that students have “less background” about identifying tools and how to use them when they join the two-year program. He said “it takes a little longer to train them” to use the equipment safely.
The teacher said “safety is first and foremost” during class time, and students build the essential experience needed to potentially work in manufacturing. He said students work through modular instruction to learn more about the different tools, how to bill out a project and how to properly assess the costs.
Leonardtown High School senior Wyatt Webster said he plans to go to college for engineering after graduating from the production engineering program in May. He said production engineering “is not like a normal general [education] class.” He said many of the local contractors “had the same machines” offered at the school.
Students in the two programs and others recently had the chance in October to tour the offices of defense contractors J.F. Taylor, Engility and Platform Aeronautics.
Webster said working through the solid works certification tutorials “was frustrating,” but he learned more about how to properly measure using tools.
A select number of production engineering students annually collaborate with NASA to produce parts that are shipped to the International Space Station, Evans said. High schools across the country contribute to the plan, called High Schools United with NASA to Create Hardware, or HUNCH.
The students “are technically contracted to NASA” while they work on the project, Evans said. After creating the parts using CADD software, students use a computer numerical control, or CNC, machine “to mill out the parts,” he said.
The newest CNC machine students can use for projects was installed at the school about three weeks ago, according to the teacher. Students can make a variety of wood and metal objects, like a chess set, a dartboard cabinet or other items.
Students who are interested in either program should have good spatial reasoning skills, or the ability to visualize objects, as well as strong math and computer skills. CADD students can also work toward a variety of industry certifications while in school.
Gerald Buckler, CADD instructor, said last week his students were using CADD software to create a variety of projects like a prosthetic arm, houses and other projects. Students will use a 3D printer to render their projects into models, and they can also upload images of objects or people using a recently acquired 3D scanner.
Most students who enroll in the CADD program “have no frame of reference” prior to entering the program, Buckler said, adding that he’ll give students an aptitude test to see if they’re a good fit.
Students who want to be in the program but may not have the innate abilities are still welcome to give it a try, Johnson said.
Those with CADD software abilities are “in high demand in the building trades,” Buckler said, adding that it saves companies effort to “build it virtually” before investing. He said, “It’s a lot of planning up front but saves a lot of money” overall.
Buckler said he’s whittled the curriculum “down to what is required” by the state, and updates the program using recom- mendations from the advisory board of local professionals. Each program at the Forrest center has an advisory board to keep the curriculum up to date.
Leonardtown High School junior Katherine Hilsinger said she enjoys working with the school’s Universal Laser Systems etcher and the 3D CNC router to create or embellish objects. She was making progress on a project that called for a logo to be engraved onto stainless steel tumblers and other cups. She said she enjoys “building something [and] make it come to life.”
She said she felt like she was breaking the mold by being in a male-dominated school program. “It’s nice to see other girls in here, too,” she said, adding that she eventually wants to study mechatronics after high school.
Buckler said he’s also working with students to improve their “soft” skills and how to be more productive in a work environment. He said employers might hesitate to hire young people because of a perceived lack of work ethic.
Johnson said school staff are encouraging students to have grit and continue through project mistakes rather than let them stop a student from finishing their work. “Nobody gets it right the first time,” she said.
Hilsinger said one thing she would tell peers who are interested in the CADD program is to have patience to see a project through. “Work your hardest to figure out how to solve” a problem, she said, and students will “probably get it right the second time.”
Production engineering teacher Drew Evans, left, points Friday while Great Mills High School junior Kyle Mashek grabs a bottle while preparing to use a school-owned drill at the Dr. James A. Forrest Career and Technology Center.
Leonardtown High School senior Mason Gibbs, center, works Friday at a school lathe while Great Mills High School junior James Thomas, left, and Chopticon High School junior Nathaniel Nicholas watch at the Dr. James A. Forrest Career and Technology Center.