State of opportunity
High-tech labs gear teens toward workforce
NORA G. HERTEL
USA TODAY NETWORK-WISCONSIN
WAUSAU - Senior Brennen Pozorski learned how to fine tune the new cobalt-blue, manual mills in the Wausau East High School metals lab and was setting them up and leveling their tables a week after classes started this fall.
The 17-year-old likes working with his hands and is thinking about attending Northcentral Technical College, where he already has some credits earned through his high school classes. Pozorski will likely earn more of those credits before graduating and in the process learn how to use the lab’s new computer numerical-controlled — or CNC — mills, which can be programmed to cut things out and drill.
Wausau East and Wausau
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West high schools have a lot of new equipment and upgraded spaces for technology education. Welding booths, a laser engraver, plasma tables, a maker space, 3-D printers, revived wood and metals labs and a brand-new 9,000-square-foot auto lab all have been added to the schools’ tech-ed department in recent months.
It’s a good time for Wausau high schoolers to get into auto repair, manufacturing, design and other tech-centric electives. And local businesses hope students will be turned on to their industries after exploring them in school.
School district leaders, notably Career and Technical Education Coordinator Jon Winter, worked with businesses in the community to tailor the improvements at the high schools to what manufacturers and other local companies need. Some of those companies chipped in for equipment to help train students in technical education courses.
"We see that they have a need. We’re trying to fill those pipelines," Winter said of employers. "We built these facilities for our community."
In an April 2015 referendum, Wausau School District voters agreed to nearly $30 million in construction, including $5.9 million for the renovations and additions at the high schools. Winter and others in the district see the referendum as an endorsement of their effort to prepare kids for the workforce.
And the business community has endorsed the technology programs as well. Winter helped raise $350,000-plus from foundations and businesses to cover some equipment and other expenses.
"It was our business partners that reall y allowed us to get high-endequipment," Winter said.
Wausau has about 2,300 students split between the two high schools, Winter said. More than 800 are enrolled in technology-education classes districtwide. Last year more than 550 students graduated with dual-credits valid at NTC.
The new technology education spaces suit different purposes, from the wood shop to the design lab. The agricultural classroom and maker space at Wausau West have yellow extension cords hanging over each table. Baskets of Legos fill some of those tables, for students to use when building robots.
"It’s a STEM-based space," Winter said, referring to an emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math. "We added windows to expose more students to it."
The design lab in Wausau West is full of computers and attached to a room with several T-shirt presses. The upgraded machines and spaces incorporate computer labs, but there’s equal space for students to move around to build or create things.
Winters taught a technology course for eightyears before taking his current job in the district. Years ago computer labs started taking over technology- education programs, he said.
"What you’re seeing now is a resurgence of hands-on learning in teched," Winter said. "It’s an exciting time to be a high school kid. They’ve got a lot of opportunities in front of them."
Here’s a look at some of the beefed-up technology programs in Wausau:
Auto body shop
Junior Alex Thao, 17, is already working as a lube technician and is among a group of students excited to get their hands greasy in the new auto lab at Wausau East.
"Our old shop was a teeny, itty-bitty shop. Now we have the ability to get a bunch of cars in here," Thao said.
There’s not room just for more cars, there’s also enough space and a lift to allow students to service a semi-tractor. The hoists are bright red and already in use. The Wisconsin Automotive Trucking Education Association covered the cost of the hoists, Winter said. And students will work to repair cars for needy families in WATEA’s Wheels to Work program.
The auto lab used to focus on mechanical repair,but the new facility has a paint mixing room and a painting booth so students can learn about fixing the body of a vehicle after a crash. And there’s the truck hoist to get students working on diesel engines.
"Business and industry are just absolutely knocking our doors down, screaming for that," said Mark Poppe, the automotive instructor and Technology Education Department chairman.
The improvements aren’t lost on the students. Junior Brad Bushman said it’s gratifying that people in the community want to meet student needs.
"It’s nice to have a head start into (this field) with a legitimate shop," Bushman said . "Now we actually have room to work. And everyone can get in on the action."
Bushman, 17, and Thao have a personal interest in the class. Thao wants to open a performance shop in the future. And Bushman has some hopes for his Nissan Sentra.
"She’s a pile," he said. "I hope I can fix her up in here."
The agriculture programsat both high schools are full, Winter said. Around 135 students are in agriculture or FFA in thedistrict.Wausau West is getting a new greenhouse as part of the technology education renovations.
And sophomore Corrita DeValk is excited about it. "I think it’s going to be great," said the 15-year-old reporter for her FFA chapter. DeValk’s family doesn’t farm professionally, but they keep a garden and chickens in Maine.
She signed up for her first agriculture class last year. Her reasoning: "It’s something that’s needed. We need to feed people."
Wausau West junior Jacob Wolfe considers welding a "fun hobby," that he learned in the school’s old shop. Now, at both Wausau high schools, new welding booths with blue curtains line the walls in the metal shop. Wolfe, who’s 16, made a hammer in his first class in that department, and that hooked him. Now he’s taking advanced manufacturing, which functions as a business, he said. Students take jobs from customers and make products. Wolfe’s excited to get his hands on the new equipment in the shop.
Learning to use that equipment imparts designing and engineering skills, said Josh Eberhardt, Wausau East construction, manufacturing and engineering instructor.
He’ll have Pozorski in clas ses this year. Pozorski is taking advanced manufacturing and welding.
And he would like to work in construction or manufacturing in the future, "whether it be with mills, lays, welding, woods," he said. "I’m going to get more familiar with the different machines this year, and whichever one is the most fascinating to me to work with, that’s what I’ll pursue."
Wausau East senior Brennen Pozorski demonstrates an adjustment on a new, manually-operated mill at the high school Sept. 9.
NORA G. HERTEL/USA TODAY NETWORK-WISCONSIN
Juniors Brad Bushman, left, Alex Thao and Vinny Treu pose for a photo in Wausau East High School's new auto shop Sept. 9.
NORA G. HERTEL/USA TODAY NETWORK-WISCONSIN