Students explore manufacturing opportunities at Digital Foundry in New Kensington

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Alexis Beard is interested in technology. As a senior at Franklin Regional High School, she wants to create and create something that helps people.

“Bridges are my passion,” she says.

Noah Kleckner, a senior at Burrell High School, wants to study mechanical engineering unless someone can change their mind.

“I love working with my hands and solving problems,” he said.

Beard and Kleckner were among about 50 students from multiple schools who attended a fabrication event for high school students Friday at Penn State’s Digital Foundry in New Kensington.

Students came from the AW Beattie Career Center and Northern Westmoreland Career & Technology Center, as well as from the Burrell, Franklin Regional, Freeport Area, and New Kensington-Arnold school districts.

A meeting for companies followed there on Wednesday. That event attracted about 115 people from three to four dozen companies, said Stephen Leonard, operations and program manager for the Digital Foundry, which celebrated its opening on June 1.

Since opening, the facility on Fifth Avenue in downtown New Kensington has hosted several camps in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM; workforce training programs; and technology demonstrations, Leonard said.

This week’s events took place as part of the national celebration of the month of October as Manufacturing Month. Wednesday’s gathering for local and regional manufacturers included technology demonstrations; Presentations; a speaker on diversity, equity and inclusion in manufacturing; and a workforce training panel.

On Friday, high school and vocational school students were able to find out more about smart manufacturing and career opportunities from industry representatives.

Mark Dempster, a technology teacher at Freeport Area High School, brought six students from his production class.

“I wanted to find out what the Digital Foundry would offer our students in terms of educational opportunities or opportunities to learn about manufacturing,” he said.

Dempster said he hoped his students would discover career and educational paths they didn’t previously know existed and would understand the relevance of what they are learning in school.

“Sometimes they think I’m just making it up. They don’t always believe me,” Dempster said.

JV Manufacturing was among the participating companies. Amber Wharrey, human resources and security administrator, said the tool-and-die store offers pre- and post-graduation opportunities for students, including internships and summer help.

“We’re always looking for people from all backgrounds,” Wharrey said. “Anything is possible. There is always room for growth. Manufacturing goes hand in hand with technology, so it is constantly changing.”

Obai Kouli, Senior Process Lead at Bayer, spoke to students about what Bayer is, what it does and the opportunities.

“It’s great to see the young minds stepping out and taking a look at what the future holds,” he said.

Steve Garia, apprentice trainer at Oberg Industries, said they want to encourage young people to get into manufacturing. Oberg will be hiring next year.

Of the questions the students asked him, Garia said the future of manufacturing is very bright.

“They are really dedicated. They really are,” he said. “Many know what they want”

That summer, Kleckner said he learned about manufacturing and industrial engineering through an internship at MetPlas Inc. Until Friday, he had no idea the Digital Foundry was in New Kensington.

“It’s ridiculously impressive,” he said.

Beard, who interns at Massaro Construction Group, found it helpful to see all the different places she could go.

“It gives me a glimpse into my future,” she said.

Brian C. Rittmeyer is a Contributor to the Tribune-Review. You can contact Brian via email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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