VALPARAISO — Boone Grove High School senior Bryce Vann will be working at Urschel Laboratories in late May.
He's been hired into the cutting machines department, and was one of three students to win the coveted Next Generation Scholarship through the company. He'll be attending Vincennes University, and will be able to work at Urschel through the summer and on breaks.
Morgan Township senior Cole Barzycki works at Aero Machine LLC in Valparaiso. He works on maintaining and refurbishing machine parts to ensure their proper operation.
Boone Grove High School senior Sam Cagle works as a welder for his father who owns Cagle Industrial Systems Maintenance Inc. in Valparaiso. He's heading to Vincennes University to major in mechanical engineering, then plans to go on to Purdue to earn a bachelor's degree.
Valparaiso High School junior Jack Thorne enjoys welding and precision machining. His plan is to go into the military and choose one of those options as a career.
These four are among 40 students in the precision machining class at the Porter County Career and Technology Center in Valparaiso. The instructor is Greg Carmack, in his 15th year with the career center.
Carmack said classes at the career center are not regular high school classes but instead are career-based.
"Students can't earn high school credit for these classes," he said. "These are career classes for college credit, and we have arrangements for the kids to earn college credit. This allows kids to try out a career for a year. Sometimes they find that they like the class and they have a knack for it, sometimes they don't. We don't give you an F because it's not your thing.
"There are so many other things they learn in the class, like how to fill out an application, how to put together a resume and how to do an interview. Even if they don't like machining, they're stuck here for a year, and they're going to learn the soft skills along the way," Carmack said.
Carmack said there is a huge emphasis in getting more women into manufacturing, and next school year four girls have enrolled in the precision machining class.
The Porter County Career Center is open to students at the MSD of Boone Township (Hebron), Duneland School Corp., East Porter County School Corp., Porter Township School Corp., Union Township School Corp., Portage Township Schools, the Valparaiso Community Schools and the School City of Hobart in Lake County.
There were 425 students enrolled at the career center for the 2016-17 school year.
Some students excel in precision machining
Boone Grove's Vann, along with Boone Grove senior Lukas Steinhilber and Kouts senior Jason Shutske, won the Next Generation Scholarship. Vann's scholarship is a full ride that will pay for all his education at Vincennes, where he plans to earn two associate degrees.
Vann, who will start at $15 per hour, said he didn't do an internship at the company, and doesn't know exactly which machines he'll be operating but said he's been well prepared at the career center.
"I came to the career center as a junior, and I've learned how to operate all kinds of machines including lathes, mills and grinders," he said. "I love this kind of stuff."
Barzycki, 18, started off at $14 per hour at Aero. The teen got another job offer from a machining shop in Kingsbury offering him $16 per hour.
"I told my job about it, and they offered me more money to keep me," he said.
Barzyski will attend Purdue University Northwest Westville campus, majoring in mechanical engineering and a minor in biology. He plans to continue working full time while he earns his degree.
"The classes at the career center are so valuable, and they gave me the skills I needed to get a good job. I'd encourage everyone to go. They explain so much about machining that you can't learn out of a book," he said.
Cagle said he started working for his father at 15. He said he considered the precision machining class and auto mechanics, but that the former was his favorite.
Thorne said when students are looking for work, they have only to say, "We're in Carmack's machining class" before landing a job.
Carmack said that's not quite true.
"That'll get them the application," the teacher said. "Then, it's up to them to sell themselves in the interview."