Middle-School Campers Learn Basics of Manufacturing

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Roman Jones, a 10-year-old from West Middlesex, Pa., spent a good part of last week building a small, battery-powered rover as part of this year’s Summer Manufacturing Institute.

Now that the week-long camp is finished, the first thing Roman hopes to do when he gets home, he said, is to disassemble and reassemble his vehicle.

“I want to be an engineer,” he said. “What I’m planning on doing is taking this apart and putting it back together, and then make a new one.”

Jones is one of 25 middle-school students who participated in this year’s Summer Manufacturing Institute, a program where students are introduced to the basics of manufacturing and what it takes to create and build things.

The YWCA of Youngstown, in conjunction with the Oh-Penn Manufacturing Collaborative, Oh Wow! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science & Technology, the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition, and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s office sponsored the program.

The theme was “Engineering for Space Exploration,” said Leah Brooks, president and CEO of YWCA of Youngstown. “Our whole goal is to expose children from grades four to six to opportunities in advanced manufacturing, whether that’s through engineering, welding, 3-D imaging, whatever that may be,” she said.

Students built makeshift Mars rovers, rudimentary vehicles made of four cardboard wheels and a small board to hold a battery, Brooks said. Moreover, students toured several nearby manufacturers such as Bridgestone Tires, VEC Inc., Fireline Inc., and KTSDI LLC.

“Our students were actually stumping some of the engineers and asking really interesting questions,” she related. “Sometimes, we think children of that age might not grasp these kinds of concepts, but they really do.”

G’Onna Townsend, 10, of Youngstown has plans to become a doctor when she grows up. “I want to travel the U.S. and take care of people,” she said, “and when I have enough money, I’ll travel the world and someday take care of astronauts.”

Her rover model was inspired by a video chat the class had with scientists at NASA, she said. They explained the surface of Mars is like a sandy beach that the real rovers to the Red Planet have to move across.

All of the students had the opportunity to maneuver their rovers in a plastic bin filled with sand. Most had difficulty moving theirs across the sandy surface.

Still, the concept of trial and error is an important facet in successful manufacturing, and few programs in the region give young people this kind of hands-on experience.

Lisa Henry of Canfield said that her son, Cade, was deemed gifted in kindergarten, describing him as someone who loves to learn. “To find classes like this that are geared for elementary and young middle-school kids is very difficult,” Henry said. “It’s a little bit easier to find once they get into the sixth and seventh grades, but at this age it’s difficult.”

There were some initiatives through Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, but last year that program ended abruptly.

“This was very productive for him,” Henry said of her son. “He enjoyed the field trips. He enjoyed the chat with the NASA engineer. He learned something everyday. As a parent, I’m so glad that this opportunity was there.”

Audra Carlson, education director at Oh Wow, said the hands-on component of the camp included tasks such as cutting and pasting, following a schematic, measuring, and creating a circuit board. “They’re trying to incorporate all those parts together and then seeing how they work in the real world by visiting manufacturers that do different processes of parts,” she said.

In July, a second week-long camp will be held that emphasizes manufacturing for the medical field, Carlson said.

This is the third year for the program, and Carlson notes its popularity is growing.

“We filled to capacity this year, so I would encourage anyone who missed out to make sure you sign up early for next year,” she said. “We’re trying to figure out how we can accommodate more children because there is such a need for programming for this age group.”

Pictured: Roman Jones, a 10-year-old from West Middlesex, Pa.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.