America Makes Brings Advanced Manufacturing Training to Valley Schools

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — A collaboration between America Makes and the Educational Service Center of Eastern Ohio will forge new career pathways for Mahoning Valley students interested in advanced manufacturing.

More than 40 area educators and school administrators from 14 regional school districts visited America Makes, the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, Thursday for a tour of its Boardman Street center and to hear about the educational opportunities for their students. 

“The goal here today is to talk about how we can leverage some of our national best practices into their local classrooms to support not only their educators, but to impact their students and talk about career pathways and talent pipelines for advanced manufacturing, specifically additive manufacturing,” said Josh Cramer, education and workforce development director, America Makes.

The collaboration will enable the ESC to develop STEM curriculum for K-12 students in its member districts, said Robert Eggleston, ESC lead career counselor. Students will get hands-on experience with STEM activities so they graduate with advanced manufacturing skills and industry-recognized credentials they can take directly into the workplace.

Josh Cramer, education and workforce development director, America Makes.

Credentials are built for and validated by partners in the America Makes network, including those in industry and defense, Cramer explained. Working with area employers will introduce students to local jobs they can work with the skills they gain.

The partnership aligns with America Makes’ “K through Grey” approach to building a national STEM talent pipeline by engaging with kindergarten students to adults, Cramer said. That approach applies to building the pipeline as well as upskilling incumbent workers, he said.

“We know there’s a skills gap in advanced manufacturing,” Cramer said. “To tackle that, we have to work on both sides of that. We need to inspire and create awareness in youth and their parents to enter these pathways.”

Partnering with the ESC will allow America Makes to inspire local students to pursue these types of careers and create awareness of job opportunities, he said. Students are being inspired by math and science at an early age, he said, “probably around second or third grade. So it’s very important that we’re talking about these careers and opportunities, and what are the competencies that are needed in industry,” as well as the steps toward these careers.

“Because many of these careers don’t always require a college degree,” Cramer said. “These are excellent opportunities right out of high school with appropriate training in high school, which is why we’re working with these teachers to build these programs.”

During the tour of America Makes, educators were provided an information packet of programs they can introduce at all grade levels.

Middle school programs include 11 microlearning modules with a series of short, interactive lessons to introduce students to basic additive manufacturing elements. Modules include an introduction to CAD (computer-aided drawing) software, digital design, creating and exporting 3D designs, 3D printing and cybersecurity.

Students also learn to work with Avi, a small four-wheeled vehicle that the students program to complete missions. Students will create, build and print Avi’s brackets and fixtures to hold its sensors.

For high school students, America Makes’ Additive Edge national outreach program trains them to identify real-world problems and come up with an additive manufacturing solution. Additive Edge teaches students to build a business model around the product and pitch the solution to a panel of judges, incorporating technology, entrepreneurship and education/career pathways objectives.

Skills gained also fill traditional manufacturing jobs, including design and manufacturing engineers, operators and maintenance technicians, process engineers, software engineers, simulation specialists, materials engineers and quality roles.

Valley educators and counselors will be trained on advanced and additive manufacturing pathways and deployment of America Makes’ Toolkit for Encouraging Additive Manufacturing in Middle School, or TEAMMSS program. 

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Gallery images include photos from Thursday’s tour.

Launched in 2012 under the Obama Administration, America Makes was created in response to the U.S. falling behind in adopting advanced manufacturing technologies, said Alex Steeb, director of operations.

In Youngstown, adopting additive manufacturing into traditional manufacturing hubs will lead to job growth locally, he said. By partnering with the schools, America Makes is giving teachers the chance to “lead the charge to attract more talent into these career pathways,” he said.

“We need people to design the products. We need people to run the equipment. We need people to think about how to make the world better with this technology,” Steeb said.

In addition to programs embedded in the schools, America Makes will host a number of events to bring students to its building.

“We will have hundreds of students come and join us to kind of learn the journey of additive manufacturing” and how it applies to the growth of Youngstown, Cramer said. 

The initiative is part of America Makes Education and Workforce Development Roadmap, which has executed more than 125 projects since 2012, and engaged more than 13,000 individuals in 2021 alone, according to documents provided by America Makes.

All programs, materials and training are provided to Mahoning Valley schools free of charge. The organization is also working with the ESC and the school districts on implementing the curriculum.

“This is our mission,” Cramer said. “This is our dedication to our local community. We’ve collaborated with a number of partners to bring these at no cost to support these programs for launch and deployment in your schools.”

The ESC has reached out to its member districts that would be interested in participating in the program, “and the response was phenomenal,” Eggleston said. 

“For the ESC career counseling team, our biggest goal is to just spread the word of what’s out there and bring these opportunities to the schools,” he said. “And this is another great one.”

For some of the educators on hand Thursday, it was their first time visiting America Makes. Tony DelBoccio, principal of East Palestine High School, said he didn’t realize America Makes was local. The program is another opportunity to aid students in building their future, he said.

Without the ESC building the bridge between America Makes and the schools, DelBoccio said there wouldn’t be many other ways to bring this type of opportunity to the students. “It’s a nice asset we’d like to take advantage of,” he said.

The collaboration is a passion project for Cramer, who was a STEM classroom instructor for about a decade in the South Hills area of Pittsburgh and carries about 26 industry certifications, he said.

“I had the blessing of seeing that light-bulb moment; having an opportunity to see a student that was inspired when learning was real and relevant,” he said. Sensing an opportunity to impact students on a grander scale, he’s spent the last 13 years building advanced manufacturing and additive programs across the U.S. with manufacturers.

“Helping them solve the skills gap is a big passion of ours that we drive on here every day as well,” he said.

Pictured at top: America Makes Director of Operations Alex Steeb welcomes guest educators.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.