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June 3, 2014

Day camp hopes to grow engineers, designers

Justin Owen admits that his model hovercraft only “kind of” worked Tuesday. But he says the full-size craft he and other students will build today will work.

“Well, I hope so,” said the New Hope Middle School student who is one of about 80 middle school students from Whitfield County and beyond attending the fourth annual Design, Engineering and Manufacturing day camp this week at the Northwest Georgia College and Career Academy.

The camp is free to attend, and Barbara Ward, director of workforce development for the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce, says the goal is to spark an interest in manufacturing careers among local youth and to show them the wide range of jobs and skills demanded in modern manufacturing, particularly in the floorcovering industry.

Before the camp ends on Thursday, participants will have built and designed cars out of wood, created their own carpet designs, built a full-scale hovercraft, used computer-assisted design (CAD) software to create objects, explored what kinds of careers match their personalities, toured local floorcovering plants and engaged in team-building activities presented by the Shaw Learning Academy.

“One of the things we are trying to do is show these students how what they learn in school applies to the real world,” said Catherine Turner, who teaches engineering in Whitfield County middle schools and was helping the students build their hovercrafts.

Several students said the most fun they’d had so far was soldering circuit board. That class was taught by Ronald Turner, program director and instructor of electronics technology at Georgia Northwestern Technical College.

“What they completed today was the first exercise that students in our (electronic technology) program complete,” he said.

The circuits the camp students put together were pretty basic ones that powered a simple noisemaker. But the skills they used can be developed to put together more complex electronics, such as those inside computers.

Turner said camp students are generally pretty adept at using technology but, apart from those who have attended previous camps, most don’t have a great deal of knowledge about what is inside those electronics and what it takes to create them.

Erik Elakman, lead counselor for Whitfield County high schools, said all parts of the camp are designed to work together to expose the students not only to careers in manufacturing but to what they will need to do to prepare themselves to fill those jobs.

“We’ve done lots of hands-on things,” he said. “The particular activity I’m involved in is called ‘Drive of Your Life.’ They will create a car and go on a trip to explore different careers after they have taken a personality inventory that shows them careers that might appeal to them. It gives them the chance, in middle school, to think about where they are going and how to get there. We talk about what type of education they’ll need for a particular career. We want to plant the idea that now is the time to start thinking about the future so they can get to where they want to go.”

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