Students, Companies Team Up to Make Manufacturing 'Cool'

Posted by Gerard Longo on

Tuesday night, approximately 700 students, parents, educators, sponsors and local business representatives came to the ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks for the second annual “What’s So Cool About Manufacturing?” video contest awards ceremony.

The contest, presented by Dream It. Do It. Pennsylvania and the Manufacturers Resource Center, featured pairings between students from 22 area middle schools and Lehigh Valley-area manufacturing companies. The students’ objective was to complete a short video project and provide themselves with a glimpse into careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in the Lehigh Valley.

“We’ve been thinking about this for a long time,” said Jack E. Pfunder, Manufacturers Resource Center president and CEO. “The key is, ‘How do you get the younger generation aware of what manufacturing is about?’ That’s what we did.”

“It’s a real testament to the commitment that business and industry in the Lehigh Valley has toward students and education,” said Teri Haddad, EdD, PBS39 vice president, production and education. “Twenty-two companies participate with 22 middle schools. These are not graduate students – these are kids, and they are committed to instill education, training and positive work ethic in order to build the pipeline. It’s just a beautiful partnership between business, industry, education and public media.”

Bill Wydra, president of Ash-Tec, Inc.

The evening was highlighted by eight award presentations and four compilation videos, each featuring portions of the 22 teams’ individual projects. The event was hosted by PBS39 Executive Producer Laura McHugh, and featured guest speakers Pfunder, Haddad and Ash-Tec, Inc. President Bill Wydra.

Wydra, who served as the event’s keynote speaker, described himself as “blown away” by the quality of the students’ work.

“That is what it is about. It’s about taking that energy and applying it,” Wydra said. “I don’t think you realize quite what you’ve captured here. You’ve captured the essence of the entrepreneurial spirit. Entrepreneurism is manufacturing. This is what we do – we’re taking ideas and resources, and converting those ideas.”

Wydra encouraged the students to continue with that spirit in pursuit of their dreams.

“I implore you to please follow those passions, and please see them all the way through,” Wydra said. “I guarantee you, if you guys follow your passions for manufacturing, one of you – or more – will make it all the way.”

Konkrete Kids win twice
Students from Northampton Middle School, who worked in conjunction with Effort Foundry in Bath, Pa., came away with two awards at the end of the night. Northampton won the award for Outstanding “Cool!” and the Viewer’s Choice Award. The latter was decided in an online vote which had more than 100,000 participants over the course of a three-day period from Feb. 19-21.

Northampton’s impressive video was the talk of the school in the days leading up to the ceremony.

“We showed our video to our entire student body and staff last week, and they were amazed,” said Patrice Turner, Northampton Middle School principal. “It helps people to realize that there are a lot of businesses out there that we don’t appreciate, and there are a lot of skills that our students need to build early that they can apply in real life.”

Building momentum
Pfunder told PBS39 that the number of area students pursuing a technical education in a manufacturing curriculum has increased from 490 to 680 over the past two years. Moreover, some manufacturing programs, like the one at Lehigh Career Technical Institute, are nearing capacity.

Programs like “What’s So Cool About Manufacturing?” will serve to continue that momentum. Pfunder suggested that the next step is to introduce companies to students emerging from technical programs.

Jack E. Pfunder, president and CEO of the Manufacturers Resource Center, speaks to the ArtsQuest Center crowd on Feb. 24, 2015“How do we get companies to hire the kids?” Pfunder asked. “We’re making a big push this year to try to do that. If you have a certificate from (technical) school, how will that differentiate your resume from somebody else? How do we get internship programs going this year so, when the kids graduate, they can do summer work at some of these companies?”

Pfunder also noted that groups in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Berks County are interested in expanding the program in their respective areas. In addition, the Manufacturers Resource Center is working with the Dream It. Do It. program and the Manufacturing Institute to implement pilot programs in other states.

In the Lehigh Valley, even bigger and better things are expected for “What’s So Cool About Manufacturing?” in the year ahead, with the expected addition of Monroe County and expansion to 26 student-company teams.

“We hope to do this for many years to come. It gets bigger every year,” Haddad said. We went from 19 to 22 teams (this year), and we have no shortage of companies wanting to participate. The school districts love it, and it’s rare that you get 700 grown-ups in a room to celebrate middle school kids. It’s a great thing, and I anticipate the program will continue.”

Award winners (Companies in parentheses)
Outstanding Program: Southern Lehigh (Crayola)
Outstanding Editing: Nazareth (ABEC)
Outstanding Creativity: Allentown Raub (Stanley Vidmar)
Outstanding Cool!: Northampton (Effort Foundry)
Outstanding Team Spirit: Northern Lehigh (Amcor)
Outstanding Educational Value: East Penn (Nestle Waters North America)
Outstanding Videography: Bethlehem Northeast (Strahman Valves)
Viewer’s Choice: Northampton (Effort Foundry)

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