From the Executive Director's Desk

Permit me to introduce all of you (if you do not know her) to Jodi Sutton, our FLATE Curriculum Coordinator. This introduction is a bit belated since Jodi has been a key part of our team for at least 3 years. However, as is always the case when someone is leaving, their impact on those staying becomes focused.

Jodi is a member of a military family and the new orders will have them living in Virginia by the middle of June. She always helped the rest of us look good by dressing up and professionalizing our “strut-our-stuff” materials. She is a great advocate for technical educational pathways, and is one of FLATE’s most adamant fans. If you know FLATE, you know we thrive on humor as each of us blends our own style into the mix. If you know Jodi, you know her verbal and visual humor is top notch. We all marvel at the way she makes us smile, and brings her personal style to design and refine FLATE’s products.

So now we must find a new a curriculum coordinator, but we only have to look at Jodi’s attributes to determine what a curriculum coordinator should do. One of Jodi’s main areas of focus has been to coordinate our FLATE industry learning challenges. She works with subject matter experts to develop meaningful STEM challenges for middle and high school students based on real Florida manufacturing and high technology companies. You can find those challenges available for download, and on our wiki at But that is just the beginning of what Jodi does for us. We pay a lot of attention to her work behind the scenes because it transforms many of our FLATE, Made in Florida, sTEm-at-WORK, Engineering Technology Degree, Robotics camps, FLATER messages, video products and presentations into visual treats.

As Curriculum Coordinator, Jodi also provides presentations to teachers and students promoting STEM, manufacturing careers and workshops on how to use the materials on the wiki. She produced a short informational video about our teacher resources and a CD containing targeted resources for career exploration for teachers and students alike. From content to packaging, Jodi is also the keeper of FLATE’s world famous Toothpick Factory. Our next curriculum coordinator will be welcomed, but his/her work will be a bit easier because Jodi has laid down the standard for this position.

We will all miss Jodi! Even though we selfishly do not want her to go, we wish her well in her new VA digs, and will be eager to learn about new professional directions that life makes available to her.

As you join us in congratulating Jodi, please take a moment to read the articles in this month’s Focus. Our industry spotlight focuses on Vulcan Machines—a local manufacturer based in Tampa. You can also read about two industrial biotech workshops that we’re hosting for teachers over the summer, or learn how robotics is helping elementary students develop a passion for STEM education.

Time is running out—don’t forget to send in your nominations for the FLATE awards (, and register for the upcoming HI-TEC conference ( in July, in Orlando!

We hope you enjoy reading these and many more articles in this edition of the Focus.

Spotlight on Local Manufacturer Underlines the Importance of Manufacturing

Manufacturing is the cornerstone of American innovation, and is one of the most dynamic industries contributing “the most economic activity per dollar of production than any other business sector in the country.” (Source: National Association of Manufacturers). Despite its dominant role, manufacturers across the board are facing severe challenges that threaten to choke the future/growth of the industry.

Mick Augustin, manufacturing manager at Vulcan Machines is among the 13,000 manufacturers in Florida who share some of these concerns. Vulcan Machine Inc., located in Tampa, FL is a classic example of a home-grown manufacturer. The company was established in 1978, and manufactures parts for a diverse range of industries that include aerospace and aircraft manufacturers, sensor and electronics components, mining equipment, industrial dryers and presses, custom tooling, and semiconductor processing systems. Commitment to “Quality On-Time Performance” remains a firm tradition at Vulcan, and a secret to its long-term success.

Vulcan prides in its state-of-the art manufacturing facility that performs a number of modern manufacturing operations like CNC vertical and horizontal milling, CNC turning, and robotic production welding. In addition to these automated processes, manual machining and manual lathe work for turning are still performed at Vulcan. “Quality is built into each part we produce, and we are proud to say we have achieved ship-to-stock status with many of our valued customers” Augustin said. Vulcan Machine’s business structure is compliant with ISO 9002, and customers can be assured each of its procedures are targeted to meet customers’ specifications and needs.

Despite remarkable attributes of manufacturers like Vulcan, general misconception of manufacturing as a grease-soaked profession, lack of qualified, skilled workers, high corporate tax rates, and compliance costs are major challenges that Augustin and fellow U.S. manufacturers contend with on a continual basis. According to a report released by NAM in 2009 “only 17 percent of those surveyed listed manufacturing in their top two industries of choice to start a career, and only 30 percent of parents stated they would encourage their children to pursue jobs in manufacturing." Clearly, there exists a disconnect between reality and general conceptions about manufacturing.

Against mounting competition, Augustin points to education as one of the sharpest tools in any manufacturer’s tool-kit. He says theoretical knowledge alone is inadequate and students need to set standards that extend beyond a high school diploma. Fundamental knowledge of mathematics, physics, and soft skills that are transferable across different industries are essential in today’s high-tech workplace.

Manufacturers as well as educators play a critical role in changing perceptions and attracting students to pursue careers/educational pathways in manufacturing. Vulcan Machine, for example, is one of FLATE’s strategic partners in offering the “Made in Florida” industry tours that gives middle and high school students a first-hand overview of modern manufacturing operations. The company hires students and incumbent workers to work on projects that give them an opportunity to apply theoretical skills learned in the classroom. Vulcan also partners with Pinellas Tech Center on a number of student-related projects, and has hired two student interns, who took engineering technology degree courses at HCC, for summer employment. Besides theoretical knowledge and hands-on training, Mick Augustin believes the internet and the media are effective tools in raising awareness, and industry as well educators need to tap into these resources to promote manufacturing to current and prospective students.

For more information on Vulcan Machine Inc. visit, or contact Mick Augustin at

sTEm-at-Work Puzzle #8: Electronic Systems Tech

The Tech is not looking at the robotic arm under test. She is monitoring the voltage and current for the arm from a control room and knows when the inductive motor for the robotic system is on because the current and the voltage signals do not go up and down together (in phase). In fact, the voltage signal will go up before the current signal goes up (or goes down before the current goes down). That is the voltage “leads” the current. In the oscilloscope cartoon below, the voltage signal is connected to Channel B and the current signal is connected to Channel A

Is the inductive motor on? (Yes or No).  Submit your answers at

Robots help elementary students develop a passion for robotics and stem education

Think robots are characters relegated to sci-fi movies of yesteryear, or machines only scientists and computer engineers can program or maneuver? Think again! In some ways, robotics is to technology what the jukebox may have been for the music industry, and “no” they’re not only for big kids or geeks. Robots and their applications have continued to evolve quickly, and are fast becoming part of our everyday lives.

Given this surge in interest, FLATE partnered with HCC, the School District of Hillsborough County and LEGO Education to host the Hillsborough Robotics Challenge for elementary students. This elementary level competition included eight teams of eight students chosen from eight local Title 1 schools, was the finale of a pilot program for the school district, and was held at the HCC Brandon,  campus in May.

Central to the competition was its focus on getting kids excited about mathematics and science. Jack Fahle, Hillsborough County Public Schools district resource teacher for mathematics said “We want students to see mathematics and science are not mere concepts taught in text books, but are useful tools for them to use in our everyday lives.” Challenges comprised of three parts that were evaluated by three separate judging teams. The first was the NXT challenge where every team competed within a limited timeframe on specific challenges that they prepared for in advance. The second component was the WeDo/spontaneous challenge which required participants to find a solution to a “new” challenge in 60 minutes, and represented individual team approaches to finding a workable solution. Working against the clock in teams of two, participants designed and built a security alarm system for a museum using LEGOs and its programming software whereby the guard (robot) would be alerted if there was a breach in security. Finally, the interview component involved answering judges’ questions on teams’ approach to solving the challenges.

The challenges served as a great experience in learning concepts like coordinates, motor speed and rotation. Kimberly, a fifth grader from McDonald Elementary School said “before we did not know how mathematics and science are incorporated in our daily life. We learned how these concepts fit together when applied to robotics.” Sarah Gill and Mary Ann Jenks, teachers at Roland Park Elementary School in Tampa, pointed to the lessons plans as “great resources developing advanced critical thinking skills.”

The age of the participants was another striking aspect of the competition. Shawn Killebrew, teacher at McDonald Elementary School in Thonotosassa, FL and Debra Smith, market communications coordinator for LEGO Education agrees reaching out to students at the elementary level helps break down mental blocks about themselves, their abilities, and enables students to reach beyond their boundaries. “Robotics is also a great tie-in for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), so the younger you are, the better you get at solving challenges and problems” Smith said.

The competition undoubtedly ignited interest in STEM education. Trey, a fifth grader from Frost Elementary School in Tampa agreed the competition was “a great place to start for all who want to become engineers in future.” Susan Boyd and Kylie Floyd, teachers at Frost Elementary School also complimented the program in enabling students to become involved in technology, engineering, and solving problems while being engineers in the classroom. The program is all set to grow with eight more schools poised to join the Hillsborough County elementary robotics program in the next year. Given its broad impact, Debra Smith hopes everyone will have access to the robotics product line in future, and that it will become a staple in education. “From thereon it’s just a matter of dreaming big” Smith said.

For information on Lego Education visit For information on local robotics programs in Hillsborough County contact Dr. Marilyn Barger at

Summer Workshops Provide Hands-on Training for Careers in Biomanufacturing

FCoE- BITT (Florida Center of Excellence for Bimolecular Identification for Targeted Therapeutics) is hosting several workshops for incumbent workers, teachers and students this summer. Most recently, FCoE-BITT partnered with HCC and the University of Florida to host an industrial biotechnology workshop at HCC in Brandon. The workshop was held May 21, and served as an entry-level course for development of skills needed to function in today’s biotechnology industry. The workshop was directed by professors Debarati Ghosh, and Krista Noren-Santmyer, both part of the HCC Science Faculty.

Natasha Torres, a science and geology major at HCC said the workshop was helpful in “reinforcing the procedures carried out in the lab” and helped expand her knowledge of biotechnology. Course content covered a wide variety of topics, and integrated concepts in processes and facilities with quality compliance to simulate the work experience in a regulated environment. It also covered two tracks: Processes, Facilities and Regulatory Affairs; and Quality Assurance and Quality Control using a blend of on-line modules, classroom exercises, and wet-lab skills. Bilal Mando, another student at HCC, said the courses provided an in-depth picture of what one "can do” with the materials as opposed to merely learning it from a theoretical perspective. “It gave me an insight on future career opportunities should I decide to pursue a track in biotechnology.”

During the workshop, participants were divided into groups to work as a “company” to manufacture popcorn within a specified timeframe. BITT Project Manager, Jose Rey said “the objectives of the exercise were to understand the complexity of a Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP) process, to identify departmental roles, gain appreciation for teamwork, communication, and cooperation between departments, and to introduce concepts of cGMPs in a context that is familiar to everyone.” Each company consisted of a material control, manufacturing, quality control and a quality assurance group. Course content/exercises were geared to match educational skills with organizational needs. Herbert Maysonet, a biotech student at HCC said “The workshop has provided me with a knowledge base, and an understanding of how my degree/skills can be utilized in a big manufacturing company.”

Indeed, the exercise was effective in showcasing the intricacies of various departmental structures and operations, and underlined the importance of paperwork/documentation. The production process was performed twice to give all students an opportunity to experience the roles and responsibilities of each department. Kevin Burn, a current biotech student at HCC said the workshop “highlighted the importance of some key marketable skills in the biotech field, and how transferable these skills are across different industries.”

In addition to the industrial biotechnology workshop, FLATE is partnering with Northeast Biomanufacturing Center and Collaborative (NBC2) to offer another workshop for teachers. “Protein is Cash: An Introduction to Biomanufacturing” will provide hands-on activities and information for new advanced technology career paths in biomanufacturing, and will be held June 14-18 at HCC in Brandon. Dr. Marilyn Barger, executive director of FLATE hopes the workshop will yield increased commitment from local high schools, community colleges, universities and bio-manufacturers to work together to develop local biomanufacturing workforce initiatives, and provide additional resources for teachers to introduce their students to exciting career opportunities in biomanufacturing. NBC2 is working with local universities to provide graduate credit for the workshop, and contribute to the development of the local infrastructure to support bio-manufacturing education and workforce training. “We hope these workshops will catalyze the development or expansion of the local education, training and workforce infrastructure to support biomanufacturers need for a local advanced technology workforce” Barger said.

For more information on the workshops visit, or contact Dr. Marilyn Barger at 813.253.6578/