Vocational studies enter high-tech era

February 21, 1994|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Sun Staff Writer

Amid the lathes, milling machines and grinders in an award-winning machine shop, high school senior Joe Rhine has big plans for a career in engineering.

"I think I'm going to go to the [Carroll] community college and get a couple credits and save up money to go to an Ivy League school," said Joe, 17, the kind of student who never expected to take vocational classes.

But here he is, learning machine technology in the afternoon at the Carroll County Career and Technology Center. He spends his mornings in academic classes at Westminster High.

Instructor William Hill said it used to be that academically motivated students were encouraged to go to college and that everyone else was told to learn a trade in a vocational school.

But the student going into a machine shop today should be prepared to use computers, learn basic trigonometry and think creatively.

The skeleton of a dragster sits at the entrance to the machine shop. Students are busy duplicating the design on a computer.

"We're simulating what industry did," Mr. Hill said. After students introduce the design into the computer, they'll start the next step.

"I'll say, 'Now, you think -- that's the important word here, think -- of a way to improve the design,' " Mr. Hill said.

"Once they have the drawing to support the idea, they'll come out and try to modify [the dragster]."

It's the same kind of activity that Ford Motor Co. and General Motors pay big bucks for, he said.

"That's called production engineering," Mr. Hill said.

Computers play a major role in Mr. Hill's shop. In addition to the computer labs, the shop has three computerized numerical control, or CNC, machines.

They are all-in-one manufacturing centers: a computer is attached to one side, and a technician can program it to make the machine cut, drill and grind a project, such as the souvenir key chain medals the school distributed at its open house Wednesday.

The CNC machines are so new that Mr. Hill and fellow instructor Gordon Davis have been asked by the Federal Bureau of Engineering to design and train its employees.

One of the CNC machines was a fraction of the usual cost of $85,000 because Mr. Hill and his students are field testing it for the manufacturer.

That kind of direct relationship with industry is what won the 1993 Award of Excellence from the Greater Baltimore Committee and Regional Technology Council for Mr. Hill and his program.

"We're pushing partnerships," he said. "We want industry in here. We have the bosses come in and talk to our kids. We let students know that manufacturing in this country is alive and well," he said.

"We place 93 percent of our kids every year" in jobs.

Mr. Hill eventually would like for all students in Carroll high schools to spend a week at the Career Center. That would show college-bound students that they can gain important hands-on experience for careers in engineering and other fields.

It might even correct a gender gap, he said. Only five girls have taken machine shop in the past two decades, and none since 1985.

"If we could get them here to participate for a week, we would keep a percentage," Mr. Hill said.

What drew Joe Rhine was a desire that certainly crosses gender lines.

"Money," he said. "And you get to work with your hands."

Joe took drafting classes at Westminster High School last year, and from there decided to take machine technology.

He also is taking a second level of drafting this year.

In drafting, students mostly drew and made architectural models. Now Joe gets to make the actual product in machine shop.

This week, he was working on an air engine he made out of aluminum.

"It didn't work real well," he said. So, he is experimenting by substituting some components made of other materials. He made one cylinder from brass and another from nylon.

The class will test the components to see which would make a stronger, more efficient engine.

The students will conduct tests for revolutions per minute, horsepower and the centrifugal force of the flywheel.

They will use algebra and trigonometry as well as elbow grease.

"In industry, they pay you a tremendous amount of money for this work," Mr. Hill said.

"This is research and development."

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