OLEAN — Olean Intermediate Middle School seventh-grader Byron Ring does more listening at school than building. He said he has maybe one class that includes hands-on activities.
This week at the Eaton Young Manufacturers Academy has been a different story.
“Here everything is hands-on activities,” said Ring, while his fellow students furiously built cardboard sleds in the next room.
Dream It. Do. It Western New York (DIDI-WNY) is holding the first Easton Young Manufacturers Academy at Jamestown Community College’s Manufacturing Technology Institute this week. Students ages 9 to 14, who are off from school this week for February break, are learning from local engineers and seeing up close how technology like 3-D printing, computer-aided design and computer numerical control machines work. They’re also manufacturing their own sleds for a sledding competition Friday.
The program, based on a national toolkit by the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology that shows students opportunities in engineering and advanced manufacturing, was made possible by a $10,000 grant from Eaton-Cooper Power Systems last fall.
Evelyn Sabina, DIDI-WNY project coordinator, said the academy gives students a “full feeling” of manufacturing, from design and engineering to opportunities for future careers.
“Around this age is a perfect time because it gives them a little taste of it,” she said. “We’re not pushing people into going into engineering or manufacturing, but what we’re wanting to do is make sure they see the opportunity. And sometimes if they’re learning this at this younger age … this idea is in the back of their mind and something comes in later on and they say, ‘Oh my goodness, I really enjoyed doing this; this is something I could have a career (in).’”
It’s also an opportunity for students to see the manufacturing education opportunities available locally. Kathleen Martel, project manager of JCC’s Continuing Education department and co-organizer of the academy with Sabina, said she hopes students in the program are future JCC students.
“It’s nice to get them on campus. A lot of them drive by and never actually come in and get to see inside the buildings,” she said. “It’s a good opportunity for JCC to show off what they’ve got, especially with machines and manufacturing.”
This first academy is a prototype for how Sabina and Martel want to run the program in the future. The academy is held in the morning hours, while in the afternoon students participate in DIDI-WNY and JCC’s sledding camp, which is in its third year. When the academy is held again this summer, the academy will run all day long on its own.
“We thought this would give us an idea of what the kids would be interested in, kind of how it would go,” Martel said. “We already had kids for sledding — let’s see what we could do with the Young Manufacturers Academy idea. We’re learning and we'll be preparing for the summer, probably wanting to change some things and expand some things.”
The sledding portion of the week was thrown into limbo with no snow and the forecast predicting showers Friday. Organizers used the predicament to test students’ problem-solving skills.
“We just presented this problem, and we told them that’s what engineers do: Engineers are presented with a problem, and they have to solve it,” Sabina said.
The students didn’t disappoint, as they suggested sledding down salted ramps and holding the event indoors. Ring said he and other students were taught the engineering process includes five steps: Figure out the problem, design it, create it, test it and start all over if it fails.
The week has been helpful to students who want to be engineers, said Olean High School eighth-grader Ryan Murphy. Murphy, nephew of the late Dresser Industries chairman and CEO John “Jack” Murphy, said he used to make machines out of LEGOs and has always been interested in machinery.
“A lot I designed has to do with machinery, and I’m here so I can improve my building skills and my machinery skills,” he said.
Murphy and Ring, who’ve used 3-D printing and computer-aided design tools before, plan to help younger students when they design their own keychains with the technology later this week.
While Sabina is proud of students like Murphy and Ring, she admitted she was displeased with the boy-to-girl ratio of the academy. Of the roughly 30 students, only six are girls.
“We’re going to work on that definitely and get more girls involved,” she said. “I think initially they think, ‘That’s not really for me,’ but then when they’re here they seem to be enjoying it.”
Sabina said the academy is yet another example of collaboration in the Olean area, as engineers from Napoleon Engineering Services, SolEpoxy, Dresser-Rand and Cutco have volunteered, and companies like OSM Corp. and Pierce Steel Fabricators have provided a computer numerical control operator and aluminum, respectively.
(Contact reporter Tom DInki at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @tomdinki)