Machining Program at ATC Propels Girls to Engineering & Become Better Engineers

As manufacturing industry experiences a rebound, the demand for high-tech machinists who are conversant in using automated machines and computer-based systems in high production environments are also on the rebound. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s, Bureau of Labor Statistics, nationally there is tremendous demand for skilled machinists as the current pool of workers look to retire. This surge in demand has not only defined a need for skilled machinists, but is changing the demographic composition of machinists as more women and girls educate and train themselves to join the workforce as machinists.

“I am the only girl in my class and I love it” said Eileen, a senior at Atlantic Technical College &
Technical High School (ATC) in Coconut Creek, FL, who plans to major in aerospace engineering at the University of Central Florida. Eileen, Bolatito, Lily and Jessica are the only girls out of 21 high school students currently enrolled in the machining technologies program at ATC. “I like the hands-on aspect of machining” said Bolatito. For Lily it was the critical thinking and precision involved in machining that stoked her interest in pursuing the program. 

All four girls are resolute in their resolve to pursue an engineering related academic program once they graduate from ATC Technical High School. Kevin Finan, their instructor at ATC Technical High School who heads the machining technologies program points to their chosen majors as a natural transition/choice for most machining students. Finan says machining is very much linked to engineering. He says machinists make better engineers as they are hands-on, have critical thinking and troubleshooting skills which are some of the defining skills set of all engineers.

In fact 90% of the high school students that are currently enrolled in the machining program at ATC have plans to pursue mechanical, or electrical engineering degrees in college. Eileen, who is the only senior among the four girls who are all sophomores, has already gotten accepted into the University of Central Florida where she plans to major in aerospace engineering. Lily plans to go to college and major in mechanical and/or computer engineering, Bolatito plans to pursue computer engineering as well, Jessica is unsure what she will major in, but says whatever degree she chooses will have some aspect of machining in it. “Everything that you use and see, has, to a certain extent, been machined, or needs machining” said Bolatito. Enrolling into the machining program, she says, has enabled her to see the impact, use and integration of machining in mass production processes and in everyday life.

The machining technologies program is a 1500 course hour program that takes 14 months to

complete. The program comprises of specialized classroom instruction along with projects and lab experiences that involve machining of metals and plastics. Classes are divided into theory and a hands-on, project-based curriculum module which is “the fun part” for most students. The program is unique, in that it offers programs for both high school and community college students, and enables ATC high school students to earn college level credits and industry certifications as well. Eileen, Bolatito, Lily and Jessica are MasterCAM certified and have the ability to get NIMS certified too. “What we are trying to do is expose students to hands-on engineering which is the best way of learning” Finan said.

Students learn how to use measurement instruments, operate CNC lathes and mills, and learn how to use MasterCAM and SolidWorks to make parts. “The best engineers that I worked with had hands-on experience which in my opinion is the best way to learn/teach students” said Finan. Given his focus on hands-on learning, students are engaged in several project based learning activities. For example, one of their projects involved working in teams to showcase the applications of STEAM in a machine shop. Other projects involve like the paper punch project for sophomores and the key chain project for seniors require students to use lathes to mill holes, work with tolerances, learn how to program and use CNC machines etc. “It’s not just their maths teacher giving them a hard time,” but it’s a great way for students to learn each of these concepts and its applications in machining. Eileen agrees, in that the courses she’s taking at ATC she says, has set the stage for her to pursue a degree/career in engineering.

In all of these projects girls are out performing the boys in many respects. Then too, Finan has worked hard to recruit girls into the program. He says girls are often confronted by the stereotypical thinking about manufacturing and machining not being the right profession for them.

When the high school program started in 2006, Finan says there wasn’t a lot of interest because students nor their parents understood what machining entailed. To offset some of these challenges, Finan devised various innovative strategies to keep and/or recruit additional girls into the program. He conducted industry tours to showcase machines and machining career opportunities. To reinforce positive role models, especially for girls, he invited a female engineer from Hoerbiger Coporation in Pompano Beach who was also the recipient of the Manufacturing Institute’s STEP Ahead Award. He’s hosted open houses and field trips to Hoerbiger, MSK, and Heico, which have served as a great recruitment and outreach strategies to girls. Finan has also set-up a precollege connection course for high school seniors which is similar to an internship where he tries to place students in local companies.

ATC student have also participated in manufacturing day for the last two years. These MFG

Day industry tours have given students, including girls, the ability to see the applications of what they learned in school being applied in real-world settings. Earlier this year Finan came up with an assignment for his students to outline why machining is a great career field. As part of the assignment, Eileen, Bolatito, Lily and Jessica put together a video that was also posted and shared across FLATE’s social networking platforms, highlighting the machining program at ATC and why it’s a great career pathway for girls. Click the video icon to watch the video that they compiled. 

Indeed the machining program at ATC has opened a great pathway for girls to be engaged in STEM based education and/or a career pathway into engineering. The program gives students a 360 degree perspective of machining which drives home Finan’s belief that “machining will make students better engineers.” For more information about the Machining Technologies program at Atlantic Technical High School visit www.atlantictechcenter.com, or contact Kevin Finan at kevin.finan@browardschools.com/ 954.200.9956. For information on FLATE’s STEM based resources visit the Made in Florida page and the FLATE Wiki where we have posted curriculum for high school students including those targeted specifically for girls, or contact Dr. Marilyn Barger, executive director of FLATE at barger@fl-ate.org/813.259.6578.