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Academy of Engineering & Automation Helps Prepare Future Manufacturing Workforce

Posted by: Cabarrus Economic Development on Friday, May 4, 2018 at 7:15:00 am

Designing manufacturing production systems. Writing resumes and interviewing for jobs. Building robots. Using 3D printers to make assistive devices. These are some of the real-world, hands-on learning opportunities offered through the Academy of Engineering & Automation at Jay M. Robinson High School.

“These programs show the quality of the Career Technical Education offerings at Cabarrus County schools and how local schools are creatively thinking of ways to prepare our future workforce for advanced manufacturing careers,” said LeeAnn Nixon, existing industry project manager for Cabarrus Economic Development and academy advisory board member.

The engineering and automation academy is one of six in Cabarrus County. Others are Academy of Energy & Sustainability, Mount Pleasant High School; Academy of Health Sciences, Northwest Cabarrus High School; Academy of Hospitality & Tourism, Hickory Ridge High School; Academy of Information Technology, Cox Mill High School; and Public Safety Academy, Concord High School. The Academy of Aviation at West Cabarrus High is set to open August 2019.

“Career academies provide an opportunity for workplace learning and allow students to experience ‘a day in the life,’” said Kristi Parlier, academy coordinator at Jay M. Robinson High School. “Students have a chance to start their career process early through field trips, job shadowing and guest speakers. They also receive specialized training through a variety of programs.”

VEX Robotics  

Jay M. Robinson students take their robotics seriously – and for good reason. The school has had a competitive VEX Robotics team for the last six years, five of which included a state championship title.

Thanks to the efforts of Robotics Instructor Dave Parisi – and funding from the Robotics Education & Competition Foundation and NASA’s National Space Grant Foundation – the program “has expanded from being a great thing to being an amazing thing,” Parlier said.

Last year, Cabarrus County had 14 VEX teams in three schools. This year, they have 71 teams at 30 schools, with an average of 10 students on each team. Also this year, Jay M. Robinson is hosting its 4th VEX Robotics Summer Camp for elementary, middle and high school students. A new camp addition includes a day-long option that incorporates STEM with a 3D Printing Camp.

“By participating in VEX robotics, students learn a variety of skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, technical writing, teamwork, interpersonal, marketing, research, time management and conflict resolution. All this is offered under the umbrella of a competitive event that drives home the attitude of winning,” Parisi said.

Fab Lab Solution Center

This three-week program helps individuals with disabilities become more independent with 3D printed assistive devices personally designed by high school students.

“We’re working with need seekers throughout the community, including the local chapter of Disabled American Veterans and Cabarrus County Schools’ Exceptional Children’s Program,” Parlier said.

Students are designing new tools to make lives easier or revising products currently on the market that are too expensive or not quite a perfect fit. They engineer it, create it and 3D print it.

Thanks to generous funding from the Jimmie Johnson Foundation, S&D Coffee & Tea and other donors, the program is open to all career academies in Cabarrus County and also includes high school-elementary school mentoring and a paid internship component. Additionally, DecisionPATH donated human resources support that includes interviewing and hiring students and providing workplace orientation.

“We’re making this experience as close to real world as we can within these walls,” Parlier said. “Instead of students creating a gizmo, gadget or blueprint that may never be used, they’re creating pieces that need seekers in our community can actually use.” 

General Aviation Manufacturers Association’s (GAMA) Flight Simulation Challenge

While some students play video games after school, others are flying to learn. Using X-Plane flight simulation software, they design, build and fly a virtual airplane that can carry a payload between two airports as efficiently as possible. The software scores how well the modified airplanes complete the flight mission using criteria for payload, fuel, distance and time.

Only 140 school across the country are selected to participate in the challenge. At Jay M. Robinson, eight students are working and collaborating together after school to learn the flight simulator program and explore the dynamics of flight and science. They also have the opportunity to work with local pilots and members of the Air Force JROTC program.

Your Future Starts Here: No Plan? No Problem!

The purpose of the career fair held April 21 was two-fold: expose graduating high school seniors to college alternatives and help businesses build their manufacturing talent pipeline.

“A four-year degree isn’t the only way to achieve a bright future. If you don’t have one you can be just as happy and just as successful,” Parlier said. “There are many amazing programs that focus on sustainable careers that aren’t seasonal, temporary or pay only minimum wage.”  

Opportunities for Local Businesses

Parlier noted there are many ways for Cabarrus County businesses and organizations to support career academies, whether it’s through mentoring, volunteering with academy programs or financial support.   

“We are thankful to our amazing business partners for their efforts to connect their expertise with our students,” she said. “I truly hope that hearing about what we’re doing at Jay M. Robinson will inspire other businesses to reach out with an academy that suits their interests and abilities.” 

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