SLAM -- "Students Learning Advanced Manufacturing" -- made an impact in Cannon Falls this summer
In July 2019, Minnesota State College Southeast was awarded a National Science Foundation grant to create an 11-credit Engineering/CNC Certificate in four regional high schools. The program launched with students enrolled in Cannon Falls High School and Chatfield High School in the first year, followed by Red Wing High School in 2020.
Named SLAM (Students Learning Advanced Manufacturing) by the students themselves, the program has given high school students a chance to get hands-on experience in an industrial setting and earn college credit for coursework related to engineering.
"The objective is to develop a pipeline of skilled technicians for industry, working closely with local industry partners for support, such as summer internships," according to Calvin Clemons, MSC Southeast's Director of Trade and Technology. "In Cannon Falls, students have been enrolled in print reading, precision measuring/gauging, and CAD/CAM/3D printing the past couple of years."
This summer, three students from Cannon Falls High School had the opportunity to intern at Gemini, one of the region's largest advanced manufacturing facilities. Founded in 1963 and headquartered in Cannon Falls, Gemini has facilities throughout North America. Its product lines include signage, custom plastic parts, hard cases, bronze plaques, and engraving materials.
While Gemini has been an industry partner since the inception of the SLAM program, student internships were not possible in the first year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, students were able to begin internships there in June.
But it's not as easy as you might think to place students in manufacturing environments. Since the students are under age 18, special safety and training conditions must be met. Minnesota State College Southeast worked with the state's Youth Skills Training (YST) Program to get the program approved.
"YST had to review MSC Southeast's curriculum and the manufacturing equipment that Gemini planned to have the students operate. All parties, including the students' parents or guardians, then signed an agreement outlining the scope and schedule of work at Gemini," Calvin Clemons said.
Sue Lawlor-Rod, a Career Navigator with the Southeast Service Cooperative in Rochester, helped the students with applying for the internships. She noted that Gemini was named CTE (Career and Technical Education) Community and Industry Partner of the Year for its support of Cannon Falls High School and its students.
"Gemini excels as a community and industry partner," Sue Lawlor Rod commented. "Beyond its involvement in programs like Youth Skills Training and SLAM, Gemini has consistently been a leader in supporting our schools through equipment donations, financial support, a scholarship program, and more."
Mitchell Hoffman, a senior at Cannon Falls High School, is one of the SLAM students who interned at Gemini this summer. He said he has really enjoyed his time at the company.
"I love it! It's been great - everyone is so friendly. I feel accepted by everyone," said Mitch. "One of my favorite parts of working here is that it's not just a bunch of employees, it's really a close-knit group. If I need help with a machine, I can go up to any one of the machinists and ask --everyone wants to help."
Mitch said that before coming to work at Gemini, he didn't fully realize the scope of the company. "I knew Gemini was big, but I did not know that there were seven different buildings here," he said, explaining that he was working in Building 2, where metal plaques are precision machined out of solid aluminum, bronze, and brass.
"Every single one is a custom order. I think they are really cool -- you never see the same thing twice. Nothing is mass produced."
Among Mitch's duties at the company has been tending to the 18 CNC machines in Building 2. "We have to keep the coolant stocked and at the right level in each machine. We can't let the level get too low, because then the tool can break, and the plaque will be ruined."
He's also gained experience loading and unloading the CNC machines, sanding the sharp edges of the plaques by machine and by hand, and in the shipping area.
"We try to give the interns a broad exposure to what we do," said Margaret Lampman, Associate Human Resources Manager at Gemini. "The students have fun! I met with them after their first week. They really want to get their hands dirty -- they all want to learn and get that hands-on experience."
She added, "SLAM is an extension of our work in the community. It helps build a pipeline of skilled labor for the future; helps students develop skills for work and life; and of course, it helps us find great talent for our business."
Gemini Vice-President of Human Resources, Phil Jacobson, said, "With all of these programs involving students, it's a triple win, because the students win, Gemini wins, and the community wins."
Going forward, Career Navigator Sue Lawlor-Rod will be available to help the students with preparing their resumes so they can leverage their technical work experience as they pursue their education and career goals.
Calvin Clemons expressed the hope that the students will choose to continue their education at MSC Southeast. "They will graduate from high school with valuable college credits in hand," he said. "That gives them a great head start in CNC Machine Tool, Computer Aided Design (CAD) Drafting Technologies, or a similar technical program at our college."