Nearly 40 middle and high schoolers spent time on the OTC campus in July learning about advanced manufacturing and potential career opportunities.
Michaela Foster looks out of place in the Ozarks Technical Community College welding lab. Well shy of five feet tall, her gloves, hood and welding jacket practically swallow her up. But she has plenty of time to grow into the protective equipment, the 12-year-old is only a seventh grader, but she’s already welding.
“You take the welding torch and make slow circles, and it just fuses the metal,” Michaela said in describing the welding process.
Michaela and 19 other 7th through 10th graders spent a week on the OTC Springfield Campus, July 10-14, attending the college’s Explore Advanced Manufacturing Camp.
Besides welding, the students were introduced to computer-aided design, precision machining, electrical and other aspects of the manufacturing process. Due to its hands-on nature, welding was one of the camp attendees’ most popular activities, and many showed a natural talent for wielding a torch.
“Welding was pretty cool,” said camper Owen Plute. “I thought it looked hard at first, but after I got the hang of it, it was easier than I thought.”
“Some of these kids are laying down better welds than I’ve seen people get paid to do,” said Hank Ryan, OTC welding instructor.
While learning about the manufacturing process, the students also created the parts of a stainless-steel, OTC-themed lamp they assembled and took home at the end of the camp.
2023 marked the third year of the Explore Advanced Manufacturing Camp, which is funded, in part, by a grant from the Nuts, Bolts, and Thingamajigs Foundation.
During the week of July 17, OTC debuted a brand new Explore Automation and Robotics camp for high schoolers. The week-long opportunity was free for the 19 participants thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation, intended to increase awareness of automation and robotics careers for high school students.
“This first year went really well,” said OTC Manufacturing Department Chair Danelle Maxwell. “The kids have had a great attitude and seemed to enjoy themselves.”
The students even tried their hands at information technology infrastructure, which involved building cables, and they learned how to keep their data safe in the cybersecurity unit.
“It just showed us how easy it can be to hack someone’s passwords,” said Serenity Swinford, a senior from Clever. “Especially if you use the same password for everything.”
While these young campers are years away from being ready to work in science, technology and engineering, the spark of interest lit during the camps may light a career fire for the students.
“To me, these camps are all about exposure,” Maxwell said. “You don’t know what you don’t know, and the camps at OTC allow these kids to see if they’re interested in a career in technology or manufacturing.”