The Oak Ridge Board of Education has voted to purchase equipment and get grant funding to help students in Oak Ridge schools learn vocational technology skills and build parts for local companies.
The board purchased the new equipment — a water jet cutting system and a Smartshop CNC router — with the $1.24 million Innovative High School or iSchool Grant that Oak Ridge Schools received from the state of Tennessee last year.
An additional, separate SySTEM grant, if the school system receives it, will allow the school to further expand the program.
Oak Ridge Schools Superintendent Bruce Borchers and Holly Cross, supervisor of career readiness and communications, told the school board that the students won’t just be learning to build items in this vocational manufacturing program. They’ll be selling parts to local companies.
“We’ll be able to fabricate in our shop and sell real products to real people,” Cross told the board. She said Oak Ridge Schools has applied with Oak Ridge Tool and Engineering, Tennessee Tool and Engineering and Knox County auto parts manufacturer Lokar. She said the school system is interested in working with other companies in the future, as well.
Cross said the parts would be based on what each company needs. She said Lokar makes custom automotive parts, Tennessee Tool and Engineering makes manufacturer level parts, and Oak Ridge Tool and Engineering makes parts for the military.
She referred to the program in an email as Wildcat Manufacturing, and a school newsletter stated it’ll be run out of the high school’s “G” Building.
Cross explained the ORHS manufacturing program will have different fabrication methods.
Oak Ridge School Board Vice Chairwoman Laura McLean made the motion to purchase a $123,260 water jet cutting system using the iSchool grant money and Board of Education member Angi Agle seconded.
A video posted with the school newsletter shows the device being used for cutting. Cross told The Oak Ridger that water jet cutting system can be used to cut metals, including aluminum. The system uses water to cut materials. Cross said students could program the device with their designs.
The school board also purchased a $47,250 Smartshop CNC (Computer Numerical Control) router, also for advanced manufacturing programs. McLean made the motion and Board of Education member Ben Stephens seconded the purchase. A video posted with the school newsletter shows the device carving patterns into wood. Cross described the device as being programmable to make “the cuts you want in the shape you want.” She said CNC routers in general can work with other types of materials such as metal, plastic and foam. Unlike the water jet cutting system, the device uses a blade rather than water.
“Our aim is to teach better thinking — everyone, everywhere, every day. The budget for the grant includes equipment and furnishings for our additive and subtractive advanced manufacturing Fab Lab, which is being built in our ‘G’ Building. This equipment includes state-of-the-art equipment, some of which was approved at the February board meeting,” stated information in the newsletter.
“Students will work with and for local partners including Tennessee Tool and Engineering, Oak Ridge Tool and Engineering and Lokar Inc., and others who wish to request our students design, prototype, iterate, reiterate and produce real-world products for sale to the public.”
The iSchool Grant, Wildcat Manufacturing
The school system paid for this equipment with a grant it has already received, the Innovative High School or iSchool Grant.
It involved $124 million from the Tennessee Department of Education which the school system has already used to purchase other advanced manufacturing equipment, including a five-access metal mill to build metal pieces and a 3D printer to build carbon fiber pieces.
Mark Buckner, Center for Career and Technology Education’s iSchool robotics innovation design and manufacturing teacher, who runs this manufacturing program, stated the school will re-invest the money from the parts it sells for new equipment and materials. Some of these funds will also be used to provide scholarships for qualifying students seeking to further their learning at local trade schools, community colleges or four-year programs.
The school board voted to accept the Tennessee SySTEM Work-Based Courses funding. The grant is for $45,000 split into installments between February 2022 and June 2024.
McLean made the motion, and Agle seconded.
The money will be used to purchase additional equipment for advanced science technology engineering and math (STEM) programs. It will also pay stipends for after-hours work by Buckner. The grant will also pay for stipends for other mentors who will run the Wildcat Manufacturing program.
Borchers said this grant fit in with the previous iSchool grant. Together these funds would allow for a “site-based, work-based learning center where students can make products for industry.” He called it a “great opportunity for our students.”
A memo stated this grant is a partnership between Jobs for the Future and the Tennessee Department of Education.
The unanimous votes for each piece of equipment and to apply for the grant came at the school board’s Feb. 28 meeting.
Ben Pounds is a staff reporter for The Oak Ridger. Call him at (865) 441-2317, email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Bpoundsjournal.