Editor's Note: This story is part of The Partnership Project, a series of content written in an effort by The Daily News to follow the formal collaboration of Ball State University and Muncie Community Schools. Read more in this series here.
Back when he was in high school, Stephen Brand said, he had many hands-on skilled-work classes. In his junior and senior years, he attended the Muncie Area Career Center where he took a machine shop class.
“None of those curriculums exist today,” he said.
Brand, who doesn’t have a formal college degree, went on to become a tool and die maker, started working for General Motors in 1990, left the company as a plant superintendent and is currently the general manager for Magna Powertrain, an automobile parts supplier in Muncie.
“The reason I tell you that story is I’ve experienced first hand over the last 20 years an increasing skills gap in people that can make things with their hands,” he said at the Muncie Community Schools (MCS) Board meeting Tuesday at East Washington Academy.
To address this gap, Jo Ann McCowan, director of career curriculum and assessment at MCS, proposed two news engineering technology programs to start fall 2020 at Muncie Central High School (MCHS), open to juniors and seniors in the school district.
“It really is time to educate, advertise, inform and market engineering technology careers to high school students and parents in east-central Indiana,” McCowan said.
The two programs — Purdue Engineering Technology and Automation Technology Careers — will be taught by a Purdue University faculty member. The first program offers 13 college credits transferable to Purdue Polytechnic, and the latter offers dual credits with Ivy Tech Community College.
While facilities like a computer lab will be set up in an MCHS classroom site, McCowan said actual learning will occur at the two local manufacturing facilities partnered with the program — Magna Powertrain and Mursix, a manufacturing company in Yorktown, Indiana.
Corey Sharp, director of Purdue Polytechnic, said one of the reasons the institute was partnering with the program was because Muncie’s manufacturing companies are in need of the institute’s engineering technology graduates.
“To have this program at Muncie Community Schools … is almost like a dream come true for me, and we’re fully supporting it,” Sharp said.
During advanced manufacturing field trips for students in October, he said, three seniors were thinking about pursuing a degree at Purdue University’s main campus in West Lafayette, Indiana.
“It’s good that students are wanting to go to West Lafayette for getting a degree, but if they go to West Lafayette, they may never come back,” Sharp said. “If they don’t come back, they’re not working at Magna, they’re not working at Mursix and they need that talent to stay.”
He said the new program could be a “keystone” that will allow Muncie students to “stay local” and produce a “bright era” in the city and county.
Susan Carlock, vice president of business development at Mursix, said her company has seen a 3 percent employee turnover rate until 2015. However, last year, she said, over 50 percent of its employee base had been in the company for less than one year.
Currently, Carlock said, her company has skilled positions that could be vacated in the next three to five years due to retirement, which would have direct negative impact on the company.
“What the engineering and automation technology programs will do to help us … [is] it gives us an opportunity to be a part of designing a new curriculum and learning experiences critical to the needs of manufacturing,” she said.
The program allows Mursix to provide the work-based learning environment for students, something Carlock said would be “critical to back filling some of the positions” that would be vacated.
“This is good news,” said Jim Williams, president of the MCS Board. “This is exactly the sort of collaboration and partnership that a community like Muncie needs.”