Sinclair Community College, Jefferson Twp. schools team up for advanced manufacturing pilot program

During a five-week FlexFactor program, high school juniors from Jefferson Twp. designed products to address real-world problems. The winning product idea was a smart trash can with the ability to sort out compostable items. To stem police brutality, one group developed a drone that could automatically launch when police make a traffic stop to record aerial video of the scene. Another group developed a heating and cooling chair that could be used by people experiencing homelessness. The sustainability group designed a reusable cup not only insulated to keep contents warm or cold, but that would also measure the amount of fluids passing through the cup. SUBMITTED
During a five-week FlexFactor program, high school juniors from Jefferson Twp. designed products to address real-world problems. The winning product idea was a smart trash can with the ability to sort out compostable items. To stem police brutality, one group developed a drone that could automatically launch when police make a traffic stop to record aerial video of the scene. Another group developed a heating and cooling chair that could be used by people experiencing homelessness. The sustainability group designed a reusable cup not only insulated to keep contents warm or cold, but that would also measure the amount of fluids passing through the cup. SUBMITTED

Credit: SUBMITTED

Credit: SUBMITTED

Sinclair Community College and Jefferson Township Local Schools collaborated last semester in a pilot program to help students find innovative solutions to real-world problems and interest them in advanced manufacturing careers.

Through a five-week program called FlexFactor, 13 high school juniors formed teams to design solutions to address homelessness, police brutality, sustainability and waste recycling.

“The word manufacturing has a really bad connotation. And it’s hard to shift that paradigm back to where students and their parents understand that these are highly technical, very viable careers,” said Julie Huckaba, Sinclair’s FlexFactor project manager.

A $560,000 Manufacturing Engineering Education Program (MEEP) grant from the U.S. Department of Defense funded the program that Sinclair seeks to expand to other area school districts, Huckaba said.

“The main thing that happens is that the students have to work on a problem that they want to fix to the benefit of humanity,” she said.

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Each team developed a product or process to address a problem, determined how technology could be utilized to improve the product and build a business model around it. At the end of the program, students pitched their ideas Shark-Tank style to a panel of area business and community professionals.

The winning product idea was a smart trash can with the ability to sort out compostable items. To stem police brutality, one group developed a drone that could automatically launch when police make a traffic stop to record aerial video of the scene. Another group developed a heating and cooling chair that could be used by people experiencing homelessness. The sustainability group designed a reusable cup not only insulated to keep contents warm or cold, but that would also measure the amount of fluids passing through it, according to Huckaba.

The students also engaged with employers who introduced them to career opportunities and acted as mentors offering guidance on how technology could enhance their ideas.

In April, the students met virtually with representatives from UES, Inc., a Dayton-based science and technology company that specializes in multiple disciplines including materials science, bio and nanoscale technologies, integrative health and performance sciences and product development in the areas of flexible hybrid electronics.

“At UES we believe that to solve tomorrow’s scientific challenges, we need to invest in STEM education and outreach today. Equally importantly, we have a lot of fun supporting a variety of STEM education initiatives and celebrating students’ successes — as we did with Sinclair and Jefferson Township Schools,” said Veeraraghavan Sundar, the company’s manager of technical marketing. “We appreciated the opportunity to share our journeys and listen to some creative problem-solving ideas.”

The FlexFactor outreach program was developed by NextFlex, a consortium of companies, academic institutions, nonprofits and state, local and federal government partners, to expand the field of flexible hybrid electronics. It is one of eight Manufacturing Innovation Institutes established by the Department of Defense’s Manufacturing Technology Program, according to the organization.

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Sinclair is offering the program to continue a mission of preparing students to enter the region’s manufacturing workforce, which increasingly needs workers with a technology background, said Anthony M. Ponder, dean of Sinclair’s Science, Mathematics and Engineering division.

“The students gain real-world experience by interacting directly with employers and educators from multiple sectors including computer-aided manufacturing, automation and control technology with robotics, industrial maintenance and supply chain management,” he said.

Huckaba said she watched some in the first group of students go from disinterested to engaged in the process.

“You could literally watch the shift happen,” she said.

Huckaba said the program will return to Jefferson Twp. and hopes more area schools take advantage of the program. The MEEP Grant funding will allow Sinclair College to serve at least 300 high school students in region. For schools or potential industry partners interested in the program, an informational session will be held Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. For an invitation, email Huckaba at julie.huckaba@sinclair.edu.

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