For three weeks this month, Northfield High School students have access to hands-on learning from industries they are interested in, all within the confines of the high school.
The collaboration, with Post Consumer Brands, FORCE America and Beckhoff Automation, involves at least one professional from each company interacting with students who are getting a head start on potential engineering careers.
The curriculum, developed from Wisconsin-based Lab Midwest, has allowed students to have their own space and learn to run equipment and automation in a hands-on, troubleshooting way based on e-learning modules.
Northfield High School counselor Mark Ensrud said the idea was hatched in a conversation he had with Superintendent Matt Hillmann a year ago. The two had discussed tying in a different learning approach, one specific to technology and engineering in a way that would give students direct experience they otherwise would not be able to gather during the school day.
“Can we give them something that will give them an advantage over someone else ,” Ensrud said of the motivation behind the initiative.
The course has taken place from 8 to 11 a.m. for rising sophomores, juniors and seniors.
This year was a pilot course, and 18 students signed up. The schools plans to either roll the initiative into next summer or the next school year.
Northfield High School technology and engineer instructor Mark Woitalla said the program is needed in today’s economy.
“We’re trying to keep up with modern technology,” he said. “Just look in town, and that’s why we’re partnering with Post and FORCE America and Beckhoff.”
FORCE America controls engineer Andrew Becklund said in the wake of a shortage of technical employees, the company is trying to have students involved early and consider a career in software engineering or mechatronics.
“At the end of the day, not only does it help the kids, but it also helps us because it gives us a pool of potential hires that are already knowledgeable about things that we already work with,” he said.
Post employee Josh Marthey said his company needs maintenance technicians and engineers, adding the entire industry is facing a workforce shortage. To him, exposing high school students to these professions at their ages opens doors to high-paying jobs.
“It’s a great opportunity to get involved with the community and help the kids get a head start learning about mechatronics and manufacturing and reaching out to some future help,” he said.
Soon-to-be senior Jacob Frigerio, who wants to become an engineer, said the course was helpful because it exposes students to different types of engineering.
“It’s kind of hard for me to decide what I want to do, because I know I want to do some sort of engineering, but I’m trying to decide what kind,” he said. “And this is helpful because it shows me electrical, mechanical, a lot of different stuff.”
Classmate Wayne LaVine agreed.
“It exposes you to all these different systems and types you can go into, even just the every day uses of it,” he said.
The program isn’t the only way the school is having students learn in a hands-on way with local businesses. Northfield Public Schools has an agreement with Northfield Retirement Community for a certified nursing assistant program. In a partnership with Laura Baker Community Services, students conduct initial direct support professional training.