Tooele County School District and Tooele Applied Technology College are forging a new partnership to prepare more students for high-demand jobs in science, technology, engineering and math.
The Utah STEM Center awarded the Tooele County School District a $374,000 one-year grant to help that partnership.
The STEM center was created and funded by the state Legislature to develop Utah’s workforce by supporting best practices in STEM education.
The school district will use the STEM center grant to strengthen local education programs in three STEM careers fields with a strong employment outlook and relatively high wages, according to the Utah Department of Workforce Services. Those three fields are: information technology, welding and manufacturing technology.
“We applied for the STEM grant for these three occupations because they are in high demand,” said Marianne Oborn, the school district’s career and technical education director. “The idea behind the grant is to create a smooth transition from high school to the TATC, allowing students to acquire the skills for these careers right here in Tooele County without leaving home.”
Both TATC and TCSD high schools already offer programs in welding, information technology, and manufacturing skills.
High school students who complete a specific set of courses for a career field receive a certificate that states they have completed the Utah State Office of Education pathway for the career.
TATC students receive a certificate of completion for their career preparation and often qualify for state or industry certifications, according to Oborn.
TATC certification means students have more skills, opening the door to more jobs and higher pay, she said.
The purpose of the STEM grant is to align the secondary curriculum and TATC’s curriculum so students can receive credit for skills learned in high school when they transfer to TATC.
The STEM grant covers the salary of a part-time grant coordinator that works with TATC and school district staff to align the curriculum and develop formal articulation agreements between the two institutions.
“We want to develop a relationship between the instructors at both levels, so they know what each other is teaching,” said Toby Lee, STEM grant coordinator. “As students come to the TATC from high school, we want them to have developed the competencies they need to continue their training.”
One articulation agreement already in place allows students from the school district’s Community Learning Center’s information technology program to receive credit at the TATC for skills acquired at the CLC.
As a result of the agreement, CLC students can cut the time and cost of their TATC education in half, according to TATC information technology instructor Bill Hill.
“On the average, after individual evaluation, we are able to give students from the school district around 200 hours of credit towards their 400 hour certificate of competency in computer upgrade and repair technician,” he said.
The computer upgrade and repair technician certificate is the gateway to other certificate programs at TATC in computer networking, engineering and administration, according to Hill.
Lee is working on developing curriculum adjustments and agreements that will build the same kind of bridge between the two schools in manufacturing technology and welding.
Along with developing articulation agreements, the STEM grant is also funding equipment purchases that will allow students at both schools to be trained in the latest technology used in today’s workplace.
Thanks to the STEM grant, Tooele High School’s woodworking students now have three computer numerically controlled woodworking machines.
Using tools under a robotic-like computer control, the CNC machines can complete a project in minutes that used to take days to complete, according to Mike Florence, THS woodworking teacher.
High school students learn how to design wood projects and then how to use the CNC machines to build them.
“CNC machines make stuff that used to be impossible possible,” Florence said.
The same type of CNC technology is used in metal working and milling in courses taught at TATC, according to Lee.
The grant also purchased a welding simulator for high school shop classes.
The simulator allows students to learn good welding techniques and develop muscle memory required for proper welding without consuming expensive materials, according to THS welding instructor Coby Champneys.
It also provides an objective evaluation of the different qualities and skills that make a good weld, he said.
The grant also purchased a CNC machine tool for the TATC’s industrial manufacturing and maintenance program, according to Lee.
STEM careers such as welding make good careers, according to Champneys.
Tyson Payne, a freshman in Champneys’ welding class, plans on taking four years of welding in high school in preparation for a career in welding.
“I love welding,” he said. “It’s the funnest thing at school.”
Payne knows that with his high school training in welding, he can expect to start out earning $14.90 an hour as a welder, according to DWS occupational reports.
With a two-year certificate of training, he can earn $26.40 an hour and with a bachelor’s degree, he can earn $39.26 an hour as a welding engineer, according to DWS data.
For THS Senior McKenzie Scott, welding is the means to another end.
Scott has four years of high school welding under her belt. After graduation from high school, she plans to work as a welder to pay for her college education. Her ultimate goal is a bachelor’s degree in equine science from Utah State University.
Increasing local education opportunities and preparing today’s students for tomorrow’s workplace is the purpose of the STEM grant, according to Lee.
“We want students and their parents to realize that they can get a quality education right here in Tooele County for careers that pay a livable wage,” Lee said.