Livermore Lab welcomes Tri-Valley students to the machine

High-schoolers get introduction to manufacturing during free summer workshop

A group of Bay Area students buckled down over their summer break and partook in a three-day manufacturing workshop at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where they got a hands-on lesson in the world of manufacturing.

The first-time workshop was targeted at the 28 high school students, including some from the Tri-Valley, to help them tap into potential career paths as machinists.

Veteran machinists and graduates from the machinist apprenticeship program gave an overview of the design-to-manufacturing process, explained how the many tools and hardware including engine lathes, horizontal boring mills and the hydropress work, and discussed the future of the manufacturing industry.

During the three-day session July 9-11, students learned about the machinist apprenticeship program, which the lab called “one of the most highly regarded programs of its kind in the state.” Many apprentices later go on to become full-time workers at the lab.

Mike Prokosch recently retired from a long career in manufacturing that included an apprenticeship, then working as a machinist before transitioning into management and later as a section leader. While he was still in high school, Prokosch said he had no idea what he wanted to do for work, and is hopeful the workshop would spark students’ interest in manufacturing early on.

“In hiring for the apprenticeship, we realized that a lot of students or potential apprentices were unaware of the pathway into the manufacturing trades,” Prokosch said. “We recognized at the junior college level, where we were focusing, it was already too late, so we decided we needed to kick it down one level to the high schools and help juniors and seniors be more aware of the career pathway and the opportunities.”

Few Bay Area high schools have machine shop classes now due to cost and liability, according to Prokosch, but both Livermore and Granada high schools have held onto theirs. Don Danner, shop and machine tool teacher at Livermore High, had several of his students attend the workshop for their benefit -- and his own.

“When the students come through my class, they have tasks they need to do. Now suddenly, I think they can see how those tasks relate to the actual real world -- they see that they have a background in this already and have a pretty good idea what’s going on,” Danner said. “From a teacher side, I see they’re using a certain program here and I think I’ve chosen the right one to use because it ties in with what they’re using in the real world. After watching the demos I’m thinking, ‘I need to pull some of that for my class.’ So, I get something out of it, too.”

Interactive tours of the lab’s manufacturing facilities helped whet Foothill High School junior Lauren Graham’s appetite for engineering. Graham has thought about being an engineer since eighth grade and wanted to learn more about the different facets of manufacturing. Participating in the workshop has piqued her interest in becoming a machinist after seeing the large role that the human touch still plays in the manufacturing process.

“I never really thought about how they made parts before -- I thought it was interesting that a lot of it was done by hand. It’s not just robots doing the same thing over and over. There’s more thought that goes into it,” Graham said. “It made me understand how people are involved in the process. It really shows you how you can have any career you want. If you don’t like a specific part of engineering, there’s so many different sub-categories. It’s good to see your options.”

LLNL manufacturing engineering section superintendent Pete Schoenenberger, who oversaw the workshop, said he enjoyed watching the students deepen their understanding of how manufacturing could be a viable career option.

“On the tours they saw some things that they’ve probably never seen before and that’s exciting,” Schoenenberger said. “I could see the wheels turning in their heads. That’s the whole idea behind this. Either spark some interest or maybe a week or month from now, they’ll make the connection.”

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Like this comment
Posted by Jtjh
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Sep 6, 2019 at 10:53 am

This article gives me hope. Students seem given so little opportunity and time for hands-on learning now. Theory and computer models are obviously worthwhile, but it's often only when one attempts the real-world application of any skill that true understanding and learning occur. And it's often the gap between theory and real-world application skills that causes rants on the part of the engineers of my acquaintance!

I think we need many more apprenticeships and career paths other than purely academic ones. I am glad that the Livermore schools still give students the opportunity to take shop classes. I hope, too, that the Lab course was free, or subsidised by the school districts, and that the participants weren't all those whose families have the means and connections to find them other internship opportunities.

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