STEM Academy Stimulates Manufacturing Creativity

CANFIELD, Ohio – Students whose interests range from aeronautics to architecture are getting hands-on learning experiences through a multi-district effort to improve skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM.

“It gives you the chance to create things,” says Lyric Davis, a student at the Valley STEM+ME2 Academy. “I want to be an architect.”

Davis, a 10th grader whose home school is Columbiana High School, is among 87 students enrolled in the new STEM Academy, which began this fall. The school is housed at the Mahoning County Career and Technical Center.

The academy allows students in ninth and 10th grades to pursue a strict STEM curriculum where they are exposed to a project-oriented education that encompasses additive manufacturing, printing, laser cutting, computer design and engineering.

Jacob Spangler, a freshman at Austintown Fitch High School, is following this path because he’s interested in becoming an engineer. “It’s a great program because we have all this equipment here,” he says. “Last week, we did laser engraving. And now we’re doing 3-D printing. I’m making a Ford Raptor logo and I engraved the back of my phone.”

The STEM lab houses four 3-D printers, three of which use plastic spool feedstock and the fourth that fuses powder into prototypes or products, says STEM coach Rachel Young. There are also three vinyl printers used for marketing purposes, CNC subtractive manufacturing machines, a laser-engraving machine, and equipment used for computer programming and engineering.

“We’ve had a great turnout and the kids love it,” Young says. “They’re engaged all the time with hands-on projects and we collaborate as teachers, so their academics tie into their projects.”

So far students have learned to work the laser engraver and are learning how to use the 3-D printers and vinyl printers, Young says. “They also learn about computer science and how robotics work, and the programming behind it and how they work with the manufacturing process.”

The program empowers students to come up with ideas and connect them with the manufacturing and marketing processes, Young says. The academy’s three vinyl printers, for example, are vehicles used to create catchy, aesthetically pleasing marketing materials such as signs and banners.

“They’re able to see their ideas come to life and create their own designs,” Young says. “That’s something that most of them haven’t been able to do before.”

The program also teaches the need for peers to work together closely, essential in today’s workplace, Young says. “They’ve met new people, [made] new friends,” she adds.

Next semester, students plan to work on clean energy-technology projects such as solar panels, wind turbines, bio-diesel fuels, a motor and a drip irrigation system. “They’re all hands-on projects,” Young says,

The academy is the only official STEM school in the Mahoning Valley and one of only 19 so designated in the state of Ohio. The program is open to students from throughout the state, and enrollment is not limited by which school district where the student resides.

About 70 or so students were present Friday for a visit from former Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams, now assistant U.S. secretary of commerce for economic development.

Williams, in the Mahoning Valley to observe Manufacturing Day, told students that the world of manufacturing has changed dramatically since when he was young.

It’s imperative that the United States embrace new technologies such as additive manufacturing, he said, and it’s no coincidence that President Obama selected Youngstown as the site of his administration’s first advanced manufacturing hubs, America Makes.

Manufacturing in the 21st century requires additional skill sets not necessary 30 or 40 years ago, Williams said. Initiatives such as the STEM Academy give young people a head start and help boost the competitiveness of the United States as a whole.

“You can take the skills that you’re learning here and apply them to fill one of the 350,000 jobs that exist right here today in an area of manufacturing,” Williams told students. “They need people who know what a CNC machine is, or they know about additive manufacturing. They want critical thinkers,” he said.

Pictured: STEM Academy student Lyric Davis shows one of the 3-D printers students use at the school.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.