When you walk into Arthur Eggink’s classroom in Alden High School, it’s exactly what you might expect to see in a technology education class.
While some students work on design and engineering projects, other students work on implementing those designs, using welding machines, laser-engravers, and three-dimensional printers. Still others work on graphic design, marketing, and promotion. The students in the program are producing various items, such as signs, awards, engraved glassware, and welded metal benches.
The catch is they’re doubling as Bulldog Manufacturing, a student-run business dealing directly with real customers, designing and manufacturing products for local companies.
The idea is to provide as much real-world experience as possible, to prepare these students for jobs after they graduate, said Allen Turton, ’03, ’14, the work-based learning coordinator at Alden, who implemented the program along with Eggink, ’19, a technology teacher at Alden.
“At this time in the Buffalo region, with manufacturing, there’s a gap here, and it’s just getting bigger,” Turton said. “The wait-and-see approach to filling the pipeline with talent isn’t going to cut it. We have to be proactive.”
The work-based learning program, which started in July 2019, is the brainchild of Turton, Eggink, and current Buffalo State graduate student Rebecca Buell, who is also a technology teacher at Alden. The program is already set to double in size for next year and add more class space. And it’s turning a profit, which allows the students in the program to reinvest in the business.
“There’s a critical shortage in the world, and most definitely in Western New York,” he said, noting that jobs in the field can bring in six-figure salaries.
The program in Alden gives students a leg up for the future, Popovich said, whether they go on to college or go into the job market and into manufacturing jobs.
“Students who graduate from that program have a lot of options,” he said.
Students who want to be involved in the program must apply, interview, and meet the requirements for the program, which include taking the prerequisite technology classes. They also need to have a résumé and references ready.
“What we’re trying to do is give them the skills to be successful in whatever it is they want to do,” said Buell, who is pursuing her master’s degree in career and technical education at Buffalo State. “The technology is just our avenue.”
While a career in manufacturing is one pathway for students, they can also get hands-on experience in business, sales, and graphic design. The program aims to provide the students with the means to apply what they’re learning in the program, said Eggink. It forces them out of their comfort zone and teaches them how to deal with the stress and deadlines involved in running a business.
“The goal of this is to have them talking to customers, talking to industry partners,” he said. “We have students making their first cold calls. Nobody likes to do that. You can make a thousand calls and maybe get one person. That’s how it is. It develops interpersonal skills. You can have a professional conversation with someone, and sound like you actually know what you’re talking about.”
Turton said a few schools are running similar programs in the area; however, the program in Alden has become a model for other districts looking to learn how things are run, with an eye toward building their own programs.
Turton is also part of the New York State Master Teacher Program at Buffalo State, and that has been helpful in starting up the program, he said. The Master Teacher program aims to extend the network of teachers who take part in it, and encourages collaboration among STEM educators.
“It’s been awesome for making quality connections with people who really care about education,” Turton said.
Popovich said there’s a need for teachers in CTE, like Turton, as well. it’s a gap Buffalo State is looking to fill.
“When it comes to preparing CTE teachers, we’re the best around,” he said.
At the end of the day, Buell said, it’s about inspiring the students to think about their futures.
“It’s getting them to see the bigger picture of what’s out there, what they can achieve, and what they can accomplish,” she said.
Photos by Bruce Fox, Campus Photographer