Camp Manufacturing

10 Rockford, Ill.-area students spend a week learning the trades


October 1, 2003


Ah, the memories of summer camp. Swimming, sunscreen, hiking, bug spray, camping, arts and crafts. And the promise of an exciting experience with friends. Like youths all over the U.S., 10 students from the Rockford, Ill., region have their own summer camp recollections. Theirs are from a one-week experience the last week of July, but it wasn't necessarily like the camp you may remember.

Ah, the memories of summer camp. Swimming, sunscreen, hiking, bug spray, camping, arts and crafts. And the promise of an exciting experience with friends. Like youths all over the U.S., 10 students from the Rockford, Ill., region have their own summer camp recollections. Theirs are from a one-week experience the last week of July, but it wasn't necessarily like the camp you may remember.

It offered blueprint classes, lectures on manufacturing, tours, and computer-aided design (CAD)—and the opportunity to fabricate metal products.

This manufacturing technology camp, offered for the first time this year, was co-sponsored by Women of Today's Manufacturing (WOTM) and Techworks and designed to encourage students to consider industrial careers.

"We wanted to give students another option, another educational opportunity," said Karen Johnson, a volunteer for the camp. "You hear about job losses and jobs going overseas, but manufacturing is still going to exist here."

"When you walk into a school and ask students what they want to do with their lives, they list off accountants, computer programmers, teachers—their list is limited with traditional occupations," said Russ Kutz, training coordinator of Woodward Academy at Techworks, where the camp took place. "Most students don't know what opportunities are available to them. Manufacturing is what Rockford was built on, and you probably know someone who has been or is in manufacturing."

At the camp, each student made a gavel, using brass for the head and aluminum for the handle. Each student's name was etched into the gavel's head using CNC software.

Kutz said he felt the gavel project would work best because each student would be learning the same design concepts, as a gavel is made of one round part and one rectangular part. He saw the process as a good example of what they would encounter in any manufacturing facility.

Jordan Erickson drills into the brass head of her gavel during WOTM's and Techworks' manufacturing camp, held at Techworks in July.

"The idea is that whatever your project is, the process is the same as anything you produce in manufacturing," Kutz said.

The camp used hands-on training and one-on-one mentoring to guide the students through producing a product. Participants used CAD software to create a design and made their gavels using a variety of metalworking equipment available at Techworks, such as mills and lathes.

"I've learned more about the CAD system and about engineering in general. I like to make stuff and design it," said Taylor Erickson about the experience. She is a freshman at Hononegah High School in Rockton, Ill.

Other students echoed her sentiments about the camp.

"I knew some of this already, but it's interesting to know how the machines work," said John Larson, a sophomore at Byron High School in Byron, Ill.

Russ Kutz, training coordinator of Woodward Academy at Techworks and instructor for the manufacturing camp, shows students a cutting tool used to help make a gavel made of brass and aluminum. Ten students participated in the manufacturing camp, six of whom were girls.

Chris Vanmanivong, a sophomore at Auburn High School in Rockford, also knew a little about manufacturing before coming to the camp, as his mother was a tool- and diemaker.

"I've always heard about what my parents do for work, but I wanted some hands-on experience," he said.

Jordan Erickson and Tim Gilbreath agreed that learning how to use the equipment was especially exciting for them.

"I've learned more about manufacturing and about how to use the machines," said Erickson, a seventh-grader at Roscoe Middle School in Roscoe, Ill.

"I finally figured out what a micrometer is," said Gilbreath, who is a home-schooled ninth-grader. "And it's been really cool to learn how to do CAD."

And Eric Parks, a freshman at Auburn High School, found that using CAD especially caught his attention because of his interest in automobiles.

"I'd like to use CAD to design a car so I can then build it and drive it," he said.

Tim Gilbreath uses a lathe to manufacture the handle of his gavel.

Parks' mother, Pamela, found it exciting to see how much her son enjoyed the camp. She wanted Eric to participate in the camp because she wanted him to learn more about CAD, because she said it complements his natural abilities with computers.

"The jobs of tomorrow are computer-generated one way or another, and there are so many ways to go with engineering," Pamela said. "In the beginning, he said, 'Oh, I don't want to go [to manufacturing camp],' but I said, 'You're going to have to learn about these technologies to be involved in them later.' He comes home every day and is so excited, telling me about what he's learned here."

It's responses like Eric's that Kutz thought would be great to see as a result of the camp, even though his main interest in teaching the students about technology was simply to expose them to the possibilities in manufacturing.

"I think it would be wonderful if this camp excited some students enough to make them want to consider manufacturing as a career," Kutz said.

Students also discovered how local manufacturers make their products during tours of five different facilities, and each day speakers visited the camp to talk about the importance of math, physics, and communication, and other skills necessary to work in manufacturing.

The combination of classroom instruction, hands-on experience, and manufacturing speakers could make the camp a complement to curriculums in the school system, said Teresa Beach-Shelow, a founder of WOTM.

"I think it would be important for educators to get students out where math and physics are being used," she said. "It might just be a way to turn that light bulb on, just by showing them what's out there and giving them a purpose to participate in school."

About Techworks

Techworks, 185 Fifteenth Ave., Rockford, IL, 61104, 815-965-3795, fax 815-965-7087,,, is a work force development program supported by private industry, public education, and community nonprofit corporations. It is intended to provide training for persons who are interested in developing skills in manufacturing, either as entry-level employees or as more advanced workers on an upward career path. Its goal is to reduce employer training costs and to enlarge the pool of skilled technicians who are working in the region.

About Women of Today's Manufacturing

Women of Today's Manufacturing (WOTM), P.O. Box 7688, Rockford, IL, 61125, 815-877-5700,, is a not-for-profit professional association for dedicated individuals working in the manufacturing field. WOTM provides professional and personal development, networking opportunities, and community interactions. Members share their ideas, experiences, and knowledge to help other women and men in manufacturing to achieve their individual, professional, and personal goals.

Stephanie Vaughan

Contributing Writer

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