June 15, 2023--Robots, laser beams, virtual reality, and, yes, learning.
TekStarz, Jonesboro's Manufacturing Camp, took 18 local Junior High School students on a four-day tour to see how STEM connects with manufacturing.
Ten different Jonesboro employers, Arkansas State University, and Arkansas State University-Newport hosted the students over the four days.
"It's fun to see the kids connect so quickly with the people at the companies who host us," said Shelle Randall, Director of Workforce Development and Existing Industry at Jonesboro Unlimited (JU), "you can really see the moment they 'get it' and how what they are learning in school translates to a job someday."
Each employer gave the students an inside look at what working in STEM in manufacturing could look like for them. From welding to using virtual and augmented reality, the students got much more hands-on time than they expected.
"This was cool!" was the phrase that echoed through the bus after every stop.
"That was the best part," said 8th grader Michael John Rickert, "we didn't just sit around and listen to people talking. We got to do things and build things."
The campers got a behind-the-scenes look at ABB, Nice-Pak, Frito-Lay, Unilever, Nabholz, Ritter Communications, Best Manufacturing, Hytrol, FMH Conveyors, and Trinity Rail. They also visited Arkansas State University-Newport and the Garage at Arkansas State University. Be Pro-Be Proud helped cap off the week by bringing their Mobile Workshop to Hytrol for Parents Night for the students and their families to get virtual "hands-on" work. The families saw the video of the week's experiences.
Parents' night concluded with an inspiring speech by Sammy Waller from Post. Drawing from his own experience, Waller told the crowd how manufacturing may not be something you consider at the start of your career, but you should. He directed the students to understand they are the world's number one expert on one thing, themselves.
While TekStarz sounds like a field trip, its roots are in workforce development. Jonesboro Unlimited's mission to develop a workforce starts long before a college major is declared. And it's not just the students JU seeks out.
"TekStarz goes hand in hand with our Industry Educators Externship that we hold in the fall," Randall said, "In that program, we take teachers on a three-day tour very much like TekStarz to help them understand the kind of jobs that await their students someday and how they can stoke that interest and connect lessons and learning with finding a career."
As far as favorites of the week? That's a question that is hard to answer. 18 kids, 18 different opinions. As soon as one of the students would give a response, you'd be sure to hear another say, "Oh yeah, I want to change my answer!"
The positive energy was all around. The students had fun.
They were engaged. And they learned a lot. When you can attend a summer camp like that AND stay in the air conditioning, that's a win-win.