Sunday, March 10, 2024

The March Madness of STEM Learning Hit Licking County


March Madness is upon us.  From my point of view, it’s already hit Licking County.  Three days of STEMfest! at The Works recently took place in downtown Newark and really brought a spotlight to how much STEM learning is part of our day to day.

STEMfest! has always been the science equivalent of a basketball tournament. Fueled by the energy of our kids learning about the value of science, technology, engineering, and math skills in a hands-on way, the 2024 edition didn’t disappoint.

Over 1,000 people went through the doors at The Works coupled with demonstrations by a dozen local manufacturers.  There were 100 teams from four counties, including students from public and private schools from most of Licking County’s school districts competing in industry challenges.

Our Licking County version of STEM learning has the greatest value because of local relevance.  There are places to learn STEM skills and there are places to work that need those STEM skills. 

Our industries crave STEM skills.  I’m glad to share just three examples on the Port Authority campus in Heath how STEM ties into their day, though it was really hard to stop at just three. 

Kaiser Aluminum’s hot rolled aluminum is a niche process that provides the strength essential to aircraft.  The metallurgical science involved is unique to Kaiser in Heath.

MISTRAS Group sees all of the metal for Space X rockets stream through their doors. Ultrasound, submersion, and x-ray techniques are the technologies behind their material testing processes.

Boeing inertial guidance systems require the precision ability to hit the equivalent accuracy of a pencil point on a football field.  Engineering aided by decimal point levels of math is what make their gyroscopes work.

STEM learning is what makes STEM careers happen.

Though inspiration for a STEM career can come from just about anywhere—that next door neighbor who tinkers in his garage to that aunt who leads a local manufacturer--it’s the school experience that counts. 

That’s why I’m impressed by Newark City Schools and their approach.  For more than a dozen years, Newark has embraced STEM in all grades.  Pre-engineering and robotics hit middle schools 10 years ago.  Advanced classes in engineering, math, computer science, and physics are now commonplace.  Newark’s STEM summer camp offerings are icing on the curriculum cake. 

Par Excellence STEM Academy is all-in on STEM too.  The school rebranded with STEM in a big way this school year.  Par has embraced engineering and project-based learning approaches that are already gathering attention.  National attention.  Later this month, Par’s elementary school students will meet one of our local company leaders to learn about brain tissue research.  Yes, brain tissue research is happening in Licking County and, now, it’s being demonstrated to fourth graders.

It’s important we keep introducing the next generation to the value of STEM learning and STEM careers.  The Works STEMfest! is a vehicle for that and has been for 15 years.

March Madness has already come to Licking County.


This column is a regular development column for the Newark Advocate.

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Yes, Vienna, There is a Santa Claus (And He Likes Ohio)


An open letter to my granddaughter for Christmas.

Yes, Vienna, there is a Santa Claus. I talked to him and, just like every year, there will be a toy, a tool, and a toothbrush in your stocking. You will have a couple nice gifts too. 

My conversation with Santa went beyond your stocking and what was to be under the tree.  I also talked to Santa about some economic gifts, and my wish for a bright future for you. Grandpa thinks that way. 

Manufacturing. Grandpa subscribes to the thinking that a strong economic base is found in industry that makes more than it would sell locally.  Manufacturing has been the beating heart of the Heart of It All.

When I was your age, the factories were strong and kids watched their parents go to work earning good pay. For much of my lifetime, though, a robust Ohio manufacturing scene was not the case.  However, it sure looks to me that your future sees a growing manufacturing base again. Ohio is leading the way among the states with onshoring of manufacturing jobs.

In your hometown, Behr Paint will open a new manufacturing facility next year.  Behr is creating jobs that would have gone overseas just a few years ago.  Boeing is at its highest level of employment in the last twenty years. 

We don’t have to drive far for more signs of growth. Ohio has seen its share of onshoring good news for a few years in a row now.  Intel’s plant should be more visible at some point next year.  Honda and LG Chem are already above ground near I-71 in Fayette County. 

Workforce. Grandpa also believes that a healthy economy requires population growth among the working age population. Ohio has some challenges there. My hope is that efforts to get homesick Ohioans back home and put out the welcome mat for new Ohioans is part of the mix of building our healthy state economy. 

My hope for your generation is that a good economy is a reason to stay in Ohio when you are working age. My generation scattered and created a long list of people homesick for their home state.  The cure for homesickness is coming home, or never leaving in the first place.

STEM Learning. My wish is for you to experience a country with a different outlook on women in STEM careers. Girls, at a younger age, talk about STEM careers, but statistics show more tend to stop talking about them as they get older.  I don’t get it. There’s no reason for women to only fill 25% of STEM jobs.  I hope you and your generation reverse this trend.

If your God-given talents call you towards a science and technology career, answer the call.  Opportunities are here, in Ohio.

Your hometown science museum, The Works, has had a STEM learning focus and so do many of the schools in your home county.  There’s a clear link between STEM learning options and STEM career opportunities.

It’s no surprise that companies that have chosen Ohio remark on the history of manufacturing, a manufacturing culture, and STEM learning infrastructure as key reasons to invest in the state. 

Santa didn’t leave these under the tree, but they are gifts Ohio enjoys nonetheless.

So, yes, Vienna, there is a Santa Claus.  And he likes Ohio.


This column is a regular development column for the Newark Advocate which also appeared in the Columbus Dispatch.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

C-TEC Integrated Part of Family, Workplace, and Economy

One day, we got a call.
  “We have an opening in the preschool.”  As a dad of triplets, I said, “Call me when you have three!”

C-TEC called back.  The program leadership saw the value of giving two years’ worth of childcare students a chance to list triplets experience on their resumes.  My youngest kids got their first chance to get to know C-TEC at four years old.

It wasn’t the last.

My son would go on to graduate from the high school engineering program.  Proving the value of career technical training, he’s now employed in a laboratory and nearly ready to fly the proverbial nest.

C-TEC marks 50 years.  For many of those years, I can recite how C-TEC, and its variety of programming, has integrated into my family, workplace, and our local economy. 

Certifications and recertifications matter.  Over the years, the Port Authority has employed C-TEC grads.  Our operations coordinator, Bill Wright, got both a C-TEC high school diploma and, later on, a certification in networking through C-TEC.  Networking wasn’t even a thing when he graduated.  Now, it’s an essential credential. Our whole team has gotten office skills training.

Customized industry training matters.  One of our Port Authority Board members, Fred Paul, first came to work with C-TEC when he was in the local manufacturing industry.  Later, he switched teams to join the C-TEC customized training side as the training-industry connector.  That effort put C-TEC on the map locally, really nationally, in the all-important pre-employment training realm.  C-TEC’s approach has been a national model many have duplicated for decades.

That thing about being a national model can’t be overemphasized.  I tagged along a couple years ago when a national author, Joel Kotkin, was seeking to shine a spotlight on the people and places where career technical training was matching up with the growing manufacturing sector.  He specifically asked to go to C-TEC.   The school’s students and programs were the magnet for Kotkin’s City Journal article soon after.  Great story.

Career readiness matters. Air Force Colonel Vicki Reed, retired commander of AFMETCAL, one of our customers on the Port Authority campus, stayed in Licking County.  Now, she’s connecting the students with industry for work experiences that are rooted in keeping the talent right here after graduation.

Add unique experiences to the list of what matters.  Senator Sherrod Brown’s team lent his power to convene to encourage STEM and manufacturing camps reaching middle school kids. C-TEC stepped up years ago.  Last Summer, the middle schoolers got to tour a cleanroom and witness testing labs at work.  Most adults never get that sort of experience on their checklists.

Workforce impact matters. Workforce readiness translates to economic impact.   C-TEC has smoothed the path for our existing companies to upskill their existing workforce.  Every successful manufacturer in town can recite how C-TEC has helped fulfill their workforce needs.  Ariel Corporation, with a plant in Heath, has brought on a workforce from about every level of the working age with C-TEC at their side. Ariel’s location and expansion in Licking County is greatly owed to that workforce impact.

It matters to every company and every prospect.  In my role, I’m always pitching to potential job creators the capabilities of Licking County to deliver on a hard-to-deliver promise of providing a skilled workforce.  Companies need to find skills available now and into the future.  C-TEC is part of that pitch with all of these capabilities. 

I know my personal story is replicated in other families and workplaces too.

The C-TEC 50-year story is an all Licking County story.


This column was submitted for publication in the Newark Advocate supplement celebrating 50 years of C-TEC.