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Friday, March 19th, 2010

Tri Star students connect

Engineering and machining classes collaborate for broader educational experience

By William Kincaid

Tri Star Career Compact students Alex Post, left, of Marion Local, and Curtis Pr. . .

ST. MARYS - The engineering and machining students at Tri Star Career Compact are working together. Engineering students design the image; machining students make the product.
Right now the students are creating a hammer, but future plans call for golf games and maybe even a drag car.
The two classes, engineering technology and precision machining, were separate until this school year. The collaboration allows students to see the interconnectedness of the two disciplines, the teachers say.
"That's how it works in the real world," precision machining teacher Rob Menker says. "You want a good communication between the two."
Participating students also will be well prepared for higher education upon graduation, so much so they may even test out of college courses, saving thousands of dollars and time, engineering technology/CAD instructor Jon Clouse says.
Clouse says his students have the opportunity to focus on either mechanical or residential engineering. The mechanical students are now housed at the Tri Star Dennings building in St. Marys, which has new equipment and computers. Also, the building is home to the machine shop.
"We never had that opportunity with the program in Celina," he says, adding there is no machine shop in Tri Star's Celina building.
St. Marys senior Patrick Larkin says the partnership has given him a better appreciation of how such work is completed.
Currently, the engineering students are generating images and instructions - essentially technical writing - of a hammer that is being produced by the machine students.
The two groups often go between the machine shop and the engineering room to see the progress of the hammer.
"Each set of students knows each other fairly well," Clouse says. "It gives them a better understanding of the process."
The blueprints created by the engineering students are read by milling machines in the machine lab so the desired product can be produced.
"Rob and I just work together well and it's just going to get better," Clouse says, pointing out future projects may include drag cars, as well as Frisbee golf equipment that one day may be manufactured by Cheryl Ann.
"Hopefully things like this will fall in line," he says.
Clouse says he had an excellent enrollment of 22 students in the engineering classes this year. But only a handful have signed up for next year, which could result in the elimination of the afternoon class next year.
Menker also has seen enrollment drop in machine precision, pointing out he only has 21 students this year, compared to 36 a few years ago.
"It hurts me to see that we are not putting students in where they need to be - students need to be in programs like this," says Clouse, who has taught for 33 years.
Menker agrees and says he believes such programs need to be promoted to students at a younger age. Tri Star open houses used to be packed, but not so anymore, he says.
Tri Star Director Tim Buschur says enrollment numbers are down, but attributes the decline to smaller school district populations.
There are unlimited possibilities for engineering and precision machine students, the two teachers say, adding that several businesses in Mercer County, such as Fanning/ Howey Associates, Celina Tent and Coldwater Machine hire the young adults and are in need of more skilled professionals.
"The baby boomers are starting to retire and they need help bad," Menker says about industries and machinists. "We need to support our manufacturing base in this country and this is where it starts."
Both men agree it's a wonderful time for young adults to be training or attending college, as the economy should return in the next few years.
"It's been tough the last couple of years, but it's going to come back and I want my students to be ready for the comeback," Clouse says.
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