MVMC Will Introduce Industrial Disciplines into Classrooms

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Terri Fleming has taught the engineering class at Trumbull Career and Technical Center for the past 16 years. But she did not encourage all of her students to go to college.

Her passion was getting students interested in manufacturing. There they could find a variety of lucrative careers – many of which require creative, critical thinking even more than a degree. Plenty of these jobs exist.

Fleming and Julie Michael Smith of the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition know students need an introduction to manufacturing – especially those whose families do not work in heavy industry. So, they teamed up to create a series of manufacturing curriculum lessons educators can use.

“What we have found [with] this generation, most have a misperception of manufacturing as being dirty, backbreaking, dead-end jobs, don’t require a lot of education and maybe don’t offer opportunities for advancement,” Smith says. “And many just don’t know anything about manufacturing. It’s not that they have a misperception. They have no perception.”

In addition, Fleming says, while educators and the state want to include manufacturing in their curricula, it’s barely happening. So, Smith and Fleming set out to create a curriculum that changes misconceptions and educates students about the innovative careers available.

Their curriculum, titled “Manufacturing Stories: Past, Present and Future,” is a series of lessons that align with academic standards and is geared to middle school students.


Using an Industry Sector Partnership grant through the Ohio Department of Development and working with both the Trumbull Career & Technical Center and Columbiana County Port Authority, Fleming and Smith wrote seven lessons.

The lessons introduce students to manufacturers in the Mahoning Valley and across Ohio, both now and in the past. And they connect today’s products to innovators who influenced their manufacture, such as Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Then the lessons move into skills students need to know to get jobs in manufacturing.

Smith says it’s surprising that many students today do not know how to use a tape measure or the difference between a Phillips-head and a flathead screwdriver.

In addition to physical skills, the lessons teach some of the mental job skills.

They teach “the importance of communication, collaboration, critical thinking in manufacturing. Because when you work in manufacturing, you are not just a cog in a wheel, you are part of a team,” Smith says. “You are a problem solver. You are coming up with ideas. You are assessing a situation. You are looking to improve the process. You might have an idea about how to improve the manufacturing process.”

What many consider soft skills, Smith calls life skills, adding that communicating, collaboration, team building, critical thinking, risk assessment, innovation and creativity are just as important as the technical skills.

The final lessons talk about some of the exciting, innovative advancements happening in the manufacture of advanced energy and batteries, robotics and additive manufacturing.


Manufacturing is a hands-on industry and so many of the lessons mimic the trades by giving students a chance to try some of the skills themselves.

“All of the lessons include hands-on activities for the students so they are always doing something,” Smith says. “They’re building something. They are testing. They are evaluating. They are getting that tactile, hands-on experience.”

For example, Smith says, students can build a small hand fan from a box of parts and using a schematic, learn to use hand tools from a toolbox, and build a programmable robot from a battery pack and a red plastic cup.

Students can build and test a marshmallow catapult and use Play-Doh for additive manufacturing.

The lessons can be downloaded and most of the hands-on materials are included for educators. Area manufacturers helped by providing project ideas relevant to the skills they want to see in workers.

The MVMC has an outreach program for children and Smith and Fleming made sure to include several of the MVMC manufacturers in the lessons. Many outreach programs are available as a resource to educators.

The companies involved were just as excited about the project as Fleming and Smith. They include Brilex, ClarkDietrich, Foxconn, Ultium Cells, Vallourec, Dinesol Plastics, Pennex Aluminum and Humtown.

“We highlight them and talk about their roles in the Mahoning Valley,” Smith says. “There are a lot of industries that we look at in our area that are new companies. But then there’s a lot that are companies that have been here for generations and they have evolved their business models and their technology to maintain relevancy.”

The manufacturing lessons project could not have come soon enough for some of these companies that have “Help Wanted” signs up.

There are 40,000 current manufacturing jobs in the region, with an average pay of $68,000. And there will be even more in the future.

“[The curriculum] really came together to address the workforce needs of manufacturers,” Smith says. “And while there are immediate, near-term and mid-term needs for manufacturing employment, certainly you need to look at the long game and look at the next generation of workers and help cultivate their interest in manufacturing as well so you continue to build that pipeline of workers.”

The course materials are ready in time to be implemented for the next school year but they do not have to be used in a school. Fleming says she could see someone using them for summer programs or with a scouting or 4-H group.

It also is not necessary to use all the lessons. Fleming believes they each could act as stand-alone lessons. And the lessons are designed so the instructors do not need to be manufacturing experts so they can teach them.

Fleming has master’s degrees in both engineering and education and began her career in industry, working as an engineer for 12 years, before starting her family and beginning a second career in education.

Fleming is stepping away from the classroom at the end of this school year but the curriculum she helped to develop with MVMC will continue her mission of fostering students’ interest in manufacturing for some time.

“It was a great project,” Fleming says. “It took a little longer than either of us thought – but it kept evolving.”

To learn more about using the curriculum, email  [email protected].