Volunteer to Teach

Could you share some of what you know about machining and manufacturing with high school students?


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If you are concerned about the future of U.S. manufacturing, there might be a way to personally address that concern. Consider volunteering in your local high school’s vocational program.

Robert Schalck does this. The Oregon engineer has spent his career in and around manufacturing of precision optics. One requirement of any high school classroom volunteer is availability during the daytime, and he recently found himself with this availability. A recent job position came to an end, so he decided to give time to a nearby public school while he considered what to do next.

The school is Marshfield High School of Coos Bay, Oregon. An elective manufacturing technology program, the Pirate Shop (named for the school mascot), teaches the basics of machining, welding and other manufacturing work.

Mr. Schalck says he is continually impressed with the quality and seriousness of the students who elect for this elective. Back when he took high school vocational classes, they had a stigma. They attracted what he called “the black leather crowd.” By contrast, kids from various backgrounds take the Pirate Shop class with no thought of stigma, out of an interest in what it’s possible to create with manufacturing skills. Another encouraging change he sees: At least one-quarter of the modern manufacturing students are girls. 

Mr. Schalck kicked off his role as an instructional volunteer with what sounded like an extravagant promise. He told the students they would learn one to three new machine shop insights from him every day. The promise proved easy to fulfill, because the students’ self-directed projects lead them into various challenges that present learning opportunities. A team attempting to machine parts for a water bottle rocket launcher, for example, gave him a chance to teach about machining radii and using a boring bar. In another instance, a cheap collet provided a chance to teach about gaging. The kids discovered why this collet didn’t fit the chuck: It was 0.0002 inch oversize.

Ten to 15 percent of these students go into skilled trades, Mr. Schalck says. He encourages this, pointing out the wages being advertised for CNC machinists in Portland. However, the value of his instruction is broader than this. An appreciation for manufacturing will make these students better-informed citizens and adults. Plus, knowledge of manufacturing will help them in any number of future jobs. In his field, he says young engineers often have to be taught how to work with machinists. These kids are further ahead.

To be sure, the Pirate Shop is an exemplary program. However, there are many good high school manufacturing programs, perhaps including one near you. You will be dealing with teenagers, Mr. Schalck cautions—not everyone relates to this age group well. But if you think you can help kids of this age explore their interest in manufacturing, then he suggests you begin by contacting a school’s manufacturing instructor. Make the offer, he says. Ask whether volunteer help from an experienced manufacturing professional is something that instructor could use. 


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