Fort Smith Public School students are getting right to the nuts and bolts of things during a recent weeklong camp taking a look at advanced manufacturing.

Thanks to a grant from the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association International (FMA), Fort Smith Public Schools hosted a Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs (NBT) camp during the week (June 10-14) for students entering seventh through ninth grade. NBT, the foundation of FMA, awards grants to community colleges and technical schools to offer summer camp experiences focused on manufacturing for youth. This year, NBT awarded $259,500 for 131 U.S. programs.

The manufacturing camps introduce young people, ages 12 to 16, to careers in manufacturing and engineering, information on the NBT website states.

“Summer camps help keep manufacturing in America vital by developing the next generation of a skilled workforce,” the site states. “The camps target middle and high school-aged youth, introducing them to practical applications of math, science, and engineering principles. The camps afford students the opportunities to tour local manufacturing companies, work directly with technology, and design and manufacture a product they can take home.

Fort Smith manufacturing partners in the camps include ABB, OK Foods, Gerber and Gerdau.

The Fort Smith camp had 16 students participating. Some of those students signed up for the camp when it was promoted earlier in the school year. Others were recruited, said Stephanie Freeman, camp organizer and FSPS career development facilitator for Ramsey and Kimmons junior highs. FSPS students who would be in junior high for the 2019-2020 school year were given an aptitude test in the spring.

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“We looked at those results, and students who showed natural talents and abilities that would fit with manufacturing were sent special invitations. We sent information to the students and the parents showing how they did on that test,” Freeman said.

Students worked with representatives from Gerber Monday, learning about the plant and building a robot. Tuesday had them at ABB, where they toured the facility, built electric motors and then hit the learning center to see and learn about CNC machines.

“At first I didn’t like camps, but this is pretty fun. You get to do a lot of cool things,” said Brison Cramp, ninth-grader. “I like the fun stuff — making new things, exploring new places and exploring new ideas.”

Nathan Clark and Hunter Daily, both eighth grader, build electric motors at ABB Tuesday.

Wednesday, a Gerdau representative worked with students with 3D pens and 3D printing and talk to them about thermal cameras and safety. On Thursday, students toured OK Foods, and Friday the students traveled to the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith to tour a robotic lab and learn what options UAFS has to offer for their future, Freeman said.

“This is the age they start to make decisions about careers. This is when we need to start to engage them about what is available. We want to expose them to advanced manufacturing and let them know these are high skill, high tech, high wage, high demand jobs,” Freeman said.

The camps give students a look at what a career in manufacturing looks like in hopes of getting students excited about pursuing that type of career.

“Finding highly skilled and motivated professionals continues to be a challenge in the manufacturing industry,” said Mike Cattelino, NBT board chair and instructor at Fox Valley Technical College, in a news release on the website. “Summer manufacturing camps expose and engage the future workforce in ways that ignite their passion for ‘making stuff.’ Having hosted camps, I have seen the effect that these experiences have had on young adults and their families. There are so many ‘ah-ha moments’ that the camp participants experience when they recognize how products that they rely on every day are manufactured.”

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Freeman said her goal is to get students excited about the field and be ready to explore it more once the FSPS career education center opens for the 2020-2021 school year.

“We are excited to get them excited. I know that’s a lot of excited, but that’s how we feel. We want them to accurately see what they will have available to them,” Freeman said.

And the Fort Smith business community is equally excited to expose as many students as possible to the world of advanced manufacturing.

“We want them to see the career opportunities in a very viable field,” said Tracy Long, ABB vice president of marketing communications. “We want them to see that jobs in advanced manufacturing are not dirty and hot and loud and boring. It’s not the factory type jobs people imagine from the past. It’s very clean and cutting edge with some interesting neat technology. Employees use their minds a lot. Now they aren’t doing one thing. They are programming equipment and they have to learning the programming language.”

Several of the students attending the camp showed enthusiasm for a career in advanced manufacturing.

“A lot of people are worried about a robot taking their job. But once they are built, they probably will whether you helped build them or not. So you should just be involved with building all this cool stuff,” Crump said. “I’ve known for a while I want a career in (advanced manufacturing), but I’m really not thinking about just what yet.”

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