Bridging the education gap

As the nation’s student-loan debt climbs closer to the $1 trillion mark, parents are beginning to wonder what the true value of a college diploma is worth.

Yesterday, we looked at welding program that is training students in the workplace before they even graduate from high school. Today, ABC 10’s Rick Tarsitano delves a little deeper into a vocational education program that’s starting to turn some heads.

While it may have looked like something you’d make in art class, this spaghetti bridge held more than 70 times it’s weight.

The Computer Aided Design, or CAD program houses 60 students ranging from freshmen to seniors, most of which are vying for their vocational education certification.

They start out with the basics: learning board drafting and navigating the CAD system. ”

“Sophomore year we get to do battle bots. That was one of the coolest things ever,” exclaimed Jared Mackey, a senior in the program who’ s bridge building team took 1st Place at the National Competition.

“That’s when we start with Inventor, which is a lot more 3-D modeling and working with mechanical parts,” explained Jake Kari, a senior in the program who’s bridge building team finished 2nd in the National Competition.

And they’re beyond proficient in that platform. It took one student mere minutes to design my camera with nothing to go off of except the naked eye. By the time junior year rolls around they take a bit more pragmatic approach, designing load-baring bridges made of pasta before making the leap to wooden replicas.

“There’s a lot to learn, we’re using a program called West Point Bridge Designer. You can go ahead and make your design right on the computer and test the load and see if holds. It shows where all our compression and tensile strength members are and everything. It’s pretty sweet to see,” admired Keenan Gantz, a junior in his third year with the Industrial Arts Program, moving toward certification.

Then it’s time for the big show, where students construct big bridges that can hold a ton; well almost half a ton to be exact.

“I’ve watched people build bridges since I was a freshmen. I’m really excited to get to build my own and see how it works. Hopefully we do as well as people have in the past,” remarked Jeremy Bell, a junior in his third year with the Industrial Arts Program.

Those are some big shoes to fill. This year, two squads comprised of six seniors took on 66 teams from 38 states at the National Competition in Rhode Island. But they were their own fiercest competition, taking home first and second place honors.

It was no small task. Not only did they have to engineer and design a bridge, “they also had to come up with a PowerPoint presentation, and a 35-page written proposal to get into it. It involves a lot of our other classes, in English, in Math,” noted Kevin Bell, Negaunee’s CAD certified vocational education instructor.

“Especially geometry drawing the different angles for different parts and everything. It ties hand and hand with this kind of stuff,” finished Gantz.

That’s the voc ed program at it’s core, embodying the essence of the Michigan Department of Education’s four Career and College Ready Standards:

1. Solve problems, construct explanations and design solutions

“When you break the bridge, obviously you don’t have that to look back on. [Powerdraft] helped a lot for the presentation because you can go back and look at a 3-D model of the bridge. Even though the actual bridge isn’t around, you can bring up the model and look at that,” explained Mackey.

2. Use technology and tools strategically in learning and communicating:

“Over here now we have a 3-D printer where we can actually print some of these things out and see where they’ll be used. It’s not just theoretical things, it’s real world stuff that you get to work with,” noted Kari.

3. Use argument and reasoning to do research, construct arguments, and critique the reasoning of others

“Finding out what was working and what wasn’t working. Like us, we doubled up trusses on this. It was actually not more efficient, but we still felt it was stronger. It held more weight,” Mackey added.

4. Communicate and collaborate effectively with a variety of audiences.

“When we go it’s not just for the bridge competition. It’s during the Department of Transportation’s Spring Meeting. The chief engineers from every state in the country are all meeting there. For the awards presentation, after it, we were actually in part of their meeting, so we got to see that. That was really cool, seeing what they do,” Kari finished.

“We got to meet new people and see what they were doing,” concluded Mackey.

So not only does it go above and beyond academic standards and broaden their horizons, after this year 8 welding and 6 CAD students will be certified and on their way to a career in a similar field. With recent reports out of the Wall Street Journal showing 284,000 2012 college graduates making minimum wage, it’s crucial that these types of programs get the financial support they need to give the future workforce a glimpse of a brighter tomorrow.