CME Engineering Camps Surprise Students, Secure Future Employees for State’s Manufacturing Industry

OXFORD, Miss. – Before Luke Ponce attended an engineering camp at the University of Mississippi, he fully expected the experience to be “nerdy.”

Then he and fellow campers visited the GE Aviation plant in Batesville and the Viking Range factory in Greenwood. Ponce also got to use ProEngineer software to print a 3-D model of a wrench he designed.

“This is awesome!” said the Olive Branch High School sophomore. “I was totally surprised by how cool it all is.”

Ponce was among 20 high school students participating in one of two weeklong camps sponsored by the UM Center for Manufacturing Excellence. Hailing from 20 different high schools scattered from the Gulf Coast to Tennessee and Kentucky, the group also represented diverse ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds.

“These camps were created to introduce students to all of the concepts involved in manufacturing,” said Ryan Miller, CME programs manager. “We’re seeking to instill an understanding and passion in them while dispelling notions that manufacturing is just assembly lines in factories.”

Working in teams, students designed, constructed and tested skateboards made from differing materials.

“Using glass and carbon fiber, the students saw firsthand the lean-production manufacturing process, which seeks to increase efficiency and decrease wastes,” said James Vaughan, F.A.P. Barnard Professor of Mechanical Engineering and CME director.

“While they’re having a great time, they are also learning to develop a sense of teamwork, a philosophy not only important in manufacturing, but which is also vital to success in life.”

Such life lessons are not going unnoticed by campers such as Alexis Keyes. While her career goal is to become a neonatal surgeon, the Petal High School junior said she recognizes and appreciates the role engineering and manufacturing play in all facets of society.

“Being a part of this experience is teaching me discipline,” Keyes said. “I also see now that manufacturing and engineering have an important part in everyday life.”

CME staff and faculty members are committed to exposing the public to the many and various opportunities that exist in manufacturing, particularly those within Mississippi, Miller said.

“There are very high-tech, creative industries right here in the state, both locally grown and global,” he said. “The CME is positioning Mississippi in manufacturing and professional development. We also wish to attract outside companies to consider locating plants here. People are hungry to work and have a ‘can-do’ spirit. Our people are our state’s best resource.”

The purpose of these far-reaching programs is to involve students from the time they start school in Mississippi until they reach enrollment age for the CME, Vaughan said. Once enrolled at the university, students will have access to programs that involve them in manufacturing industries and prepare them for employment.

“Follow-up programs also are being developed to continue training and provide new skill sets to the work force,” Vaughan said. “Through these programs, the CME hopes to influence manufacturing from the start of a person’s work in school to the end of their employment in the industry by providing training and education at all levels promoting continuous improvement.”

Ponce said he is sold on both working in manufacturing and staying in Mississippi to work.

“After what I saw and heard at GE Aviation, I’m really excited about all of the job opportunities here in the state,” Ponce said. “I definitely plan to attend engineering camp again next summer, and I’m going to recommend it to all of my friends.”

For more information about the Center for Manufacturing Excellence, visit