Local Students Visit to ET Lab stimulates interest in STEM & Manufacturing

FLATE’s efforts to stimulate interest in STEM and manufacturing-related careers have culminated in various outreach initiatives. These targeted programs have impacted middle and high school students, secondary/post-secondary educators as well as industry professionals throughout Florida, and repositioned their opinion of manufacturing. As part of these efforts, FLATE has facilitated several onsite visits for students and educators to tour the engineering technology lab at Hillsborough Community College (HCC) and get a first-hand view of technologies used in real-world settings.

Most recently, FLATE sponsored a day trip and opened its doors for students from Marion Technical
Institute (MTI) in Ocala to visit its facilities and learn about the engineering technology program that is currently offered at HCC and 13 other colleges across Florida. “I wanted the students to see what we are doing in the high school is rigorous and relevant to career and college preparedness” said Dale Toney, robotics and automation teacher at MTI. Toney who was the recipient of the 20134 FLATE secondary educator of the year award said the tour provided students with a realistic view of STEM related careers and options available to them once they graduated from high school. Given the integration of robotics in high-tech operations, students also interacted with Brandon—a NAO humanoid robot which served as a highlight of their trip.

In an ongoing bid to encourage minorities and underrepresented students to pursue STEM based careers, FLATE also partnered with Hillsborough Community College, the School District of Hillsborough County’s
Career & Technical Education Department and the Florida High-Tech Corridor (FHTC)—an economic development initiative of the University of Central Florida, University of South Florida and University of Florida—to give 27 students enrolled in the aerospace technology program at Robinson High School (RHS) a tour of the ET lab at HCC. Jeffrey Bindell, Ph.D. who was a speaker and organizer said the tour was made possible via the techCAMP program, a subsidiary of FHTC’s techPATH initiative geared to educate/expose students to technology-related degrees offered at community colleges in Florida. The initiative has been highly successful, in that, more than 3700 students and teachers have toured high tech facilities via this program to date, and learned how an interest in STEM would translate to lucrative opportunities in future.

During the visit students toured the HCC/FLATE engineering technology lab and learned about tinkerCAD, a design program that introduced students to 3D modeling and printing. Students verified the relevance of metrology, tolerances & specifications while designing their own key-chain with their names in 3-D. “I knew there were rapid advances in technology, but I did not know how fast it was growing until I saw this” said Nicole Foy, a senior at RHS. Students also got a brief overview of the A.S. degree in engineering with special emphasis on manufacturing. “I did not realize HCC had a robust ET program. It opened my mind into considering community college as an option” said Foy.

In addition to hand-on exercises, students also toured the 3D-printing laboratory, scanning laboratory and
the final products & samples station at EMS Technologies in Tampa. At the 3D-station laboratory students saw 3D printers in action, and got a brief explanation of printer set up and how the software works. At the scanning laboratory students saw different types of 3-D scanner, surface scanner for larger object, comet scanner for smaller objects and a metro scanner that could be manually operated. Students also got a demo of how to scan and 3D model an object. “There are no limits to what you can do with technology and if there are any limits those are just relegated to your imagination” said Sean McGlone, a junior at RHS.

Feedback to the tour was highly positive from teachers too. “The most immediate impact will be seeing what they learned about CAD/SolidWORKS is being applied and used in manufacturing settings” said Jeff
Kaloostian, aerospace technology instructor at RHS who also attended FLATE’s STEM workshop for educators in 2011. Kaloostian says most people envision engineering jobs as someone sitting on a desk and designing products, and a technician as someone with a wrench in their hands, but they do not think about the high-skilled, high-paying jobs an individual can make working as an engineering technology specialist. To that end, he hopes the tours will inspire and help students to think outside the box and explore technologies that might stimulate their interest in high-tech manufacturing and/or STEM.

The “Made in Florida” industry tours are designed to fuel students’ interest in modern manufacturing careers, and encourage enrollment in technology programs available throughout Florida. Since the inception of the tours, 4,472 students from 64 middle and high schools and 533 teachers and parents have toured 87 high-tech manufacturing sites in Florida. Ninety six percent of over 3,000 surveyed students since 2005 have agreed the tours were critical in informing about careers in advanced manufacturing.

To coordinate a tour of the engineering technology lab at HCC, a MIF tour, or for information on the statewide ET degree contact Dr. Marilyn Barger executive director of FLATE at barger@fl-ate.org, or visit http://etdegree.org and www.madeinflorida.org. For information on the engineering program at MTI and aerospace technology program at RHS contact Dale Toney at Bruce.Toney@marion.k12.fl.us and Jeff Kaloostian at 813.272.3006 ext 271. For information on FHTC’s techPATH program contact Jeffrey Bindell, Ph.D. at jeffrey.bindell@ucf.edu