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Denver's Project DIY Increases Knowledge of Advanced Manufacturing Careers

July 12, 2017
A summer camp in Denver introduces high school girls to advanced manufacturing and the career prospects its provides.

From June 5 – 9, 2017, the Community College of Denver (CCD) Advanced Manufacturing Center (AMC) hosted their second week-long camp for high school girls, giving them the opportunity to learn hands on about advanced manufacturing, including machining, welding, architecture, and engineering graphics/3D printing. The camp was sponsored by The Women’s Foundation of Colorado, Denver Public School’s CareerConnect, and the Soeurs de Coeur Fund.

CCD’s Advanced Manufacturing Center is a state-of-the-art 33,280-square-foot facility offering degree and certificate programs in machining and welding. CCD also offers continuing education courses for CNC machinists, welding certifications, and wire EDM training allowing for workforce advancement.

When I interviewed Janet Colvin, Manufacturing Pathways Campus Coordinator at the Advanced Manufacturing Center at CCD, she said that they had two one-week summer camps in 2016 for nine girls each week, but this year, they had 28 girls in a one-week camp. This format change allowed girls to participate in paid six-week post camp internships with local companies that are involved with the Denver Public School (DPS) CareerConnect program.

With regard to the selection process, Janet explained that the AMC staff worked with Denver Public School staff to select girls who were interested in the engineering, manufacturing and "Maker" career pathways.

She described how each morning began with the students doing team building activities, campus tours, and other role-playing exercises. The following is a summary of the week's activities as Colvin described them:

On Monday, the girls visited an architectural company, RNL Design, where two female architects spoke to the girls about careers in that field and gave them a tour of their design center. The girls completed an architectural drawing using SketchUp, an origami building project, and participated in an architecture photo scavenger hunt in downtown Denver.

Tuesday was devoted to engineering, graphic and mechanical design at the CCD Mechanical Engineering Graphics lab. Each girl was able to design and 3D print her own fidget spinner using SolidWorks. Debra Wilcox, the owner of a local 3D printing store, also came to speak to the students.

The girls toured two advanced manufacturing companies on Wednesday. At Sundyne, they met mechanical engineers and saw a part being made on a 5-axis CNC machine. The tour also provided lessons in the importance of safety from a female member of the local chapter of the American Society for Safety Engineers. At Eldon James, a women-owned plastic injection molding company, they watched plastic parts being molded. A member of the Colorado chapter of Women in Manufacturing (WIM) of which Colvin is also a member, spoke to the girls about careers in manufacturing.

Thursday was spent at CCD’s Advanced Manufacturing Center doing manual machining using mills and lathes to drill a hole in a CNC-machined medallion. Stacey Bibik, president of Focused on Machining, spoke to the girls about careers. For welding, the girls used both simulators and actual welding equipment under faculty supervision. They had the opportunity to meet and interact with manufacturing college students at the AMC. In the afternoon, they toured a glass recycling company, Clear Intentions.

In the morning of the camp’s last day on Friday, the girls worked with faculty to finish their projects and learned how to create a plasma-cut DIY sign in welding. In the afternoon, there was a graduation ceremony in which the girls had the opportunity to share their experiences. Guests included family members, CCD staff, women from the manufacturing community, and the Denver Public School CareerConnect program.

Business Participation Vital to Camp's Success

"The camp was a success because more than 25 professional women who are employed in advanced manufacturing companies participated in CCD’s camp, and 16 Community College of Denver staff, students, and faculty in architecture, machining, fabrication welding and engineering graphics helped design projects, presented, and coached girls,” said Colvin, who coordinated the camp. “I can’t say enough about the companies who participated. One of the key goals of the camp was to provide opportunities where girls could visualize themselves in manufacturing careers, and these business partners helped us achieve that goal.”

Colvin stressed that one outcome of the camp was the change in the understanding of manufacturing skills and the potential future employment prospects in the Denver region.

The Project DIY team administered a test before and after the camp, which showed what the girls learned. Here are some of the results of the camp:

  • Pre/post test showed increased knowledge of manufacturing careers and educational pathways; 74% of the participants agreed that the camp increased their motivation to pursue a career in advanced manufacturing; 78% of the girls indicated that they could explain the basics of how to make metal parts with a machine, compared to 29% pretest.
  • 100% of the campers indicated that they learned new skills; 91% stated that the camp helped them learn more about their career interests; 100% recommended the camp to others.
  • Machining, welding and the tours were listed among their favorite activities.
  • The post-test results showed that none of the girls thought advanced manufacturing was dirty work (compared to 39% in the pre-test)."
  • Two Project DIY attendees started paid internships in manufacturing with Denver Public Schools CareerConnect after the camp.

“As a result of the camp last summer, one girl changed schools to attend a school that taught welding,” said Janet. “Nine girls came back to complete the camp for the second time this summer. We follow up with all of the girls during the school year. We provide opportunities for the girls to participate in our large MFG DAY event and an international Maker Faire conference.”

CCD’s manufacturing programs offer the ability to earn an Associate of Applied Science degree in fabrication welding, machining or engineering graphics, and mechanical design. The college also offers a variety of basic and advanced certificate programs that are stackable —meaning students can earn a certificate and start working right away while continuing on towards more advanced certificates or associate’s degrees in their field.

Colvin explained how CCD grew their Advanced Manufacturing Center programs and how they were funded. "We opened the center on July 21, 2015 after receiving a $3.5 million grant from the Department of Labor. Nine community colleges received this grant, called CHAMP. The grant enabled us to set up the center, buy the equipment, and develop the curriculum with the help of the local manufacturing industry. It was a four-year grant, so we have another half year of funding. We are researching other opportunities for continued funding for the center. We are a corporate training center, so we offer training for a fee to local manufacturers.” She said that if anyone wanted more information on ProjectDIY, they could contact her at [email protected].

I shared with Janet that I have written numerous articles about solving the skills gap and attracting the next generation of manufacturing workers and am familiar with the Manufacturing Institute prediction that “Over the next decade, nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will likely need to be filled and the skills gap is expected to result in 2 million of those jobs going unfilled.” I told her that I certainly hope that CCD will be able to obtain follow up funding for the Advanced Manufacturing Center and be able to continue their summer camps. I believe these types of summer camps are vital for attracting the next generation of manufacturing workers.

I told her that I believe that the manufacturing industry is the foundation of our middle class, and that our country’s national security and prosperity depend in large part on a strong manufacturing industry. This is why I wrote my book, Can American Manufacturing be Saved?  Why We Should and How We Can, and am now working on a sequel titled Rebuild Manufacturing — the Key to American Prosperity, which I hope to have published by the fall.

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