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Sturgis hammers it home with machining collaboration

mandylin_atwdt_1_USEThe whirring of machines and high-pitched screech of cutting metal accompany five Sturgis Brown high school students as they attend their weekly Dual Enrollment class at Western Dakota Tech. The class is a collaboration between education and industry, and students at Sturgis Brown are the first to test it out. The program combines industry experience and hands-on learning through the Dual Enrollment program. Students earn college credits and get a feel for the machining industry while still in high school.

To complete the program, students spend one semester interning for 90 minutes a week at various Sturgis machining businesses and have a four-hour machining class at WDT each Friday.

"I like the hands-on work," said Mandilyn Horst, one of the students in the program. "You get to see the product you're making right when it's done."

Aside from the obvious benefit of enjoying a break from their normal high school class day, the students said they enjoyed the instructors at WDT, getting experience in a real work environment, and applying what they learn to their every-day lives.

"It gives me a good idea of what the job site is really like," said student Aaron Adams. Not only does the program benefit students, it also gives local machining companies the opportunity for a larger selection of local employees.

Pat Kurtenbach, President of the Sturgis Economic Development Corporation, said, "Skilled machinists are extremely difficult to find and recruit so we decided to grow our own by partnering with the high school to attract the interest of students and parents."

The students test out the industry and get a jump-start on their career, and the businesses have a hands-on role in developing the skills of those students. Those who are a good fit have the potential for full-time work shortly out of high school.

"The greatest export of our community is our children," said Irving Stone, President of Bar-Sto Precision LLC., a participating business. "The benefit of this program is we get to keep the kids here where they can start their career, maybe raise a family, and stay local."

Stone has been searching for this type of program since his relocation from California four years ago. He says the collaborative environment here in South Dakota is much different. According to Stone, leaders here aren't afraid to step outside the box and support initiatives that make sense.

"It was a team effort," he said. "We had the governor and his group of people who were willing to see the potential and the schools and businesses were very willing to work together. It was a community and state effort to make it happen."

The "it" is a combination of two state actions. As part of the budget for 2014-2015, the South Dakota Legislature approved funding to allow high school students to take most state-supported college classes for just $40 per credit hour. At WDT, tools, books, and uniforms are covered by the Pathway to College and Career Success grant WDT received through Governor Dennis Daugaard's vision for expanding dual enrollment opportunities.

The Sturgis students taking classes at WDT all recommended the experience to other students.

Horst passed along this advice, "Take every chance you get in high-school. It's cheaper, and you get an early start."

Leaders at Sturgis Brown are excited about the program and the potential for student success.

"This course focuses on rigor, relevance, relationships, and results," Sturgis Brown High School Principal Jeff Simmons said. "We're looking at the big picture by making sure students are building relationships with postsecondary schools and industry, and learning skills that will prepare them for the future."

The program is off to a great start, with nothing but positive comments and excitement from all parties involved.

"When the kids are out of school and have jobs and say 'this program really helped me,' that's when you know it worked," Sturgis Brown Assistant Principal Don Lyons said.

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