The technology and engineering department at Neenah High School teaches students how to make products, sell them and customize them to the benefit of its community.
Travis McDonough, technology education teacher, came onto the high school staff three years ago when the welding lab was due for installation, according to Mike Elkin, technology department chair. The department was discussing moving away from their beginning stages and rough frames to produce more skilled trades and material processing classes. The department concluded with beginning its Material Process course, which focuses on broad-based manufacturing skills. One year ago the program worked with Tony White and Adam Hendries, technology and engineering teachers, both part of the Project Lead the Way program (PLTW), to get as many students as possible to sign up for the new material processes class. “Those students came in with a skill set that allowed them to visualize and design in the digital world and then came in with that skill set and apply a hands on approach,” McDonough explained with a proud smile.
With the introduction of new courses came the brand-new welding lab and welding teacher, McDonough. The welding classes have increased student participation, Elkin believes, because of the opportunity to sell its products as a fund-raiser for the department. The students recently sold their products at the Helping Hands Craft Fair where the students set up a booth and acted as the sales associates and marketing team for the products. The fair allows for businesses to keep 10 percent of their profits, but the students gave their profits to charity instead of having a pizza party for themselves. McDonough said he was impressed with how hard the students worked to sell a product with great quality by checking every weld, grinding it for smoothness and painting it for aesthetic appeal.
The manufacturing courses have only grown since the installation of the welding lab and McDonough onto the staff of NHS. The department is always looking to evolve with the community’s needs and wants, according to Elkin, which is what initially attracted both of the teachers to the program. The launching of Future Forward Neenah, a new manufacturing course, proves the program keeps evolving with each school year. Principal Brian Wunderlich talked with McDonough after NHS’ new “Rocket Stadium” entrance sign went up two summers ago. “Mr. McDonough mentioned that a plasma cutter and some talented students could do similar work for a fraction of the cost,” Wunderlich said. Shortly after the conversation Wunderlich secured financial support for the plasma cutter and discussions of a general idea for Future Forward Neenah began. “Mr. M was the driving force behind empowering students and Mr. Buboltz found a way to schedule the students,” Wunderlich continued. He is excited to see the program evolve and believes the possibilities are endless for what the students of NHS can do with the right materials. Future Forward Neenah is a capstone course that offers in-depth experience for the students in the design and manufacturing fields, according to NHS 2016-’17 course description guide. The manufacturing students must earn their way into this class with instructor’s approval as a prerequisite along with successful completion of both first and second level courses in the technology department. The course allows students to connect with clients and forces them to focus on what the client wants while still looking at the budget.
Future Forward Neenah began improving their community last year with the Mercury Commons in the Armstrong building. McDonough talked to a student leader, Matt Kemper, senior, and asked him to recruit other students to work on the project. By the end of the recruitment period, four business education students, four engineering students and a dozen manufacturing students with different skill sets to work as a team made the commons a community space for clubs, students and teachers to use. Initially the commons was to become a coffee shop, like other local high school’s had in their buildings. The class quickly realized they were in over their heads and changed the plans to exclude coffee. Art, marketing, business information, engineering students and staff came together to make the Mercury Commons brighten up with school spirit. The commons is gaining more attention and use than McDonough’s students thought it would get, according to McDonough.
Throughout the fluid and evolving manufacturing program McDonough and Elkin hope to leave the students with one simple thing: “Confidence. Confidence is a big one. That with the right training and the right experiences there’s really no limit to the skills they can develop,” McDonough said with a serious tone.
McDonough and Elkin love seeing the students gain confidence in their work and prepare them for the working world whether the student ends up in the manufacturing field or a different field. The program will continue to grow with staff and student understanding, business partnerships with Neenah Foundry, Plexus, Bemus and others and the progressive manufacturing Neenah community.
“We just need to button up the ends, but you know it’s a process,” Elkin added. He feels the program is at the precipice of its greatness and soon will achieve it.