February 1, 2013
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.

 

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

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. 

 

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.

"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."

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

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."

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