No Marshmallows for Future Manufacturers at Camp

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -- Start your engines!

With these words, a two-week program to introduce middle school students to the processes and rewards of manufacturing ended, but organizers hope a lifelong interest in the subject had been sparked.

Twenty-three students from middle schools in the Mahoning Valley participated last week in the second Summer Manufacturing Institute, a program that provides the basics so young people can understand the concepts of manufacturing and how things are made.

“They’ve been frantically building boats and cars,” said Audra Carlson, education manager at Oh Wow! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science and Technology in Youngstown. “They’re learning how these things work from the inside out.”

The camp ended July 25 with an event in the gymnasium at the YWCA of Youngstown where students lined up and raced the battery-powered cars they spent the week creating. Some of the vehicles spun out of control, others stalled, while other models cruised across the finish line with little difficulty.

During the first week, students were charged with manufacturing boats. The second week was devoted to building rudimentary cars. In between, students paid visits to area manufacturers such as Taylor-Winfield Technologies Inc., Fireline Inc., Gasser Chair Inc. and VEC Inc. to see the manufacturing process firsthand.

“They learn how the pieces are made, either by molding, steel fabricating, machining and 3-D manufacturing,” Carlson says. The students then take the knowledge they gain from these visits and put it to use when they build their vehicles. “They’re learning a lot of different processes. They’re learning how important it is to work as a team.”

Sixth-grader Jake Grzelewski’s vehicle was among those that made it across the finish line in two races. “I came in first and second,” he says.

Throughout the week, students were introduced to just about every facet of manufacturing, marketing and selling a product, says Danielle Cantrell, vice president and retail banking manager at Cortland Banks. “We’re bringing the element of budgeting and understanding what profit is to these campers,” she says.

Cantrell and others from Cortland Banks spent time with students explaining the importance of the financial aspect.

Each student is awarded a fictitious $10,000, Cantrell says. With this money, they purchase their own supplies, use some of it to cover their costs of marketing and overhead, and then sell their product for a profit.

The materials include cardboard at $50, composite frames at $200, wooden dowel rods for the axles at $150, and compact discs used for wheels at $150 for the pair.

Understanding the financial aspects of manufacturing is particularly significant because it fills in some of the gaps in public education programs, Cantrell says. “This age group wouldn’t normally have this kind of activity,” she elaborates. In fact, Cantrell and her colleagues who helped with the effort had to create the presentation from scratch. “We couldn’t find one anywhere,” she says.

Students also spent a morning working on promotional and advertising materials for their vehicles.

They had help with any soldering process, but mainly used nonelectrical tools such as manual drills.

“I’m using it to drill a plastic disc to make a wheel,” explains sixth-grader Anthony Micco. “Then I’ll slip in the dowel rod for the axle.”

For his vehicle, Micco used a cardboard base and designed it so that the batteries would be on top and the motor on the bottom. “I’ve spent around $7,000 for materials” out of the $10,000, he reports.

The YWCA, Oh Wow!, the Oh-Penn Manufacturing Collaborative, the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition, the office of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and the Youngstown City School District helped coordinate the program.

The experience can be just as invaluable to program directors and educators, relates Jennie Andrews, program manager-youth and empowerment at the YWCA.

“The highlight is seeing the excitement, the ‘Aha!’ moment in the kids’ eyes when they’re able to see what they’ve learned,” Andrews says. “And, their parents are kind of blown away – that they’ve learned something on that level already.”

Pictured: Seventh-grader Olivia Alfano cuts a wooden dowel that will be used as an axle.

Copyright 2014 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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