Minnesota High School Paves Way for Careers in Advanced Manufacturing
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Dakota County, MN – High school students in Minnesota are benefitting from exposure to state-of-the-art advanced manufacturing technology in multiple classroom settings.

Intermediate School District (ISD) 917 serves nine school districts in Dakota County, Minnesota. Housed in Dakota County Technical College, the school provides increased opportunities for personal and career skill development for students in specialized classes that their local high schools don’t offer.

For example, all nine Dakota County high schools have their own robotics teams, but none offer robotics as a class. At ISD 917, students can learn the concepts and skills needed to program and use industrial-grade robots as a course, not simply a hobby.

One of the goals at ISD 917 is to create an educated and skilled population that can easily assimilate into the workforce. Recently, the school recognized a need to revitalize their Technology Education courses to accomplish this goal.

Building Connections

The program often takes students on field trips to tour local manufacturing facilities. There, students see what goes on in the day-to-day of a manufacturer’s career. Concepts learned in math and science courses are clearly present during the tours: measurement, geometry, coordinates, and circuits, for example. But lately there has been a disconnect between classroom concepts and practical skills. When employees started talking about mechatronics and Programmable Logic Controls, they were speaking a language the students couldn’t understand.

ISD 917 students gather around the Amatrol Skill Boss

“We were seeing advanced manufacturing processes in the Amazon plant nearby,” said ISD 917 Principal Eric Van Brocklin. “So we thought, how do we get this into the schools?”

The school board set out to refocus some of their curriculum. They began to ask a few key questions, like what do businesses want students to be able to do when they leave the program?

With industry on the verge of its fourth revolution, technology and connected systems are advancing rapidly, and employers are looking for workers who are familiar with these concepts. Students need hands-on learning using robotics, mechatronics, and PLCs as early as high school to secure these skilled positions.

The school board concluded that advanced manufacturing curriculum and trainers would give students a baseline for a successful career in industry.

This summer ISD 917 acquired an Amatrol Skill Boss and an AC/DC trainer, and they implemented Amatrol’s eLearning platform in several classrooms. Now, when classes visit a manufacturing facility and hear employees talk about mechatronics or PLCs, the students can envision themselves in these jobs because they already have hands-on experience with the same skills.

This is the school’s marker for success: “The biggest hope we have is that our students will be confident when they leave here about their career opportunities,” said Van Brocklin.

Industry 4.0 in the Classroom

Lynn Morris and Dale Engman are the two ISD 917 instructors currently implementing this technology in their classrooms. They attended the first-ever Industry 4.0 Train the Trainer event at Gateway Technical College and are excited to watch the program develop in its flagship year.

Morris, a math teacher, is able to use the equipment in her classroom to give kinesthetic learners a visual representation of math concepts.

“The portables are great because they are hands-on, and students can learn hard skills on things they’ve never seen before,” says Morris.

ISD 917, FANUC robotics, and Amatrol Skill Boss

She also teaches a Geometry in Construction course where students apply math concepts to actually building a three-bedroom home. She looks forward to adding more Amatrol portables, like Precision Measurement, to supplement this course.

Engman teaches several Computer Science courses and focuses on the Industry 4.0 curriculum, as connected systems, data analytics and algorithms are the cornerstones of IIoT.

“The network piece is blooming, and with the Internet of Things, there’s a huge niche for Industry 4.0 to be incorporated into Computer Networking,” he said.

Launching New Programs

This is just the beginning for ISD 917. They have big goals in mind for long-term.

It’s all about building momentum. When students get excited about advanced manufacturing technology, they share this with classmates, parents and teachers. Excitement builds enrollment, and soon other local high schools, technical colleges, and businesses will see the relevance of teaching Industry 4.0 skills.

“We’re hoping to expose more students to this program and to be on the forefront for other schools,” remarked Morris.

Long-term, the school hopes to build a full industry program with classes that cover all things manufacturing and Industry 4.0. They would also like to see more technical colleges continue to build up their advanced manufacturing programs so ISD 917 students have a clear next step in their education pathway.

High schools and technical colleges all across the Midwest are starting to catch wind of the importance of advanced manufacturing education, and ISD 917 may just be the spark that ignites momentum in Dakota County.

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