Cedar Falls teacher STEMs into manufacturing at Independence plant

INDEPENDENCE | Chad Anderson gained some experience in computer numerical control machining this summer during an “externship” at Geater Machining and Manufacturing.

But, more importantly, the Cedar Falls High School industrial technology teacher gained some insight into the demands and requirements of the job as he completed the training through the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council.

“As teachers, we do a lot of career placement,” said Anderson. In his department, that means guiding students who are considering career pathways, job possibilities and post-secondary programs in technology fields.

Working in the prototype machining cell at Geater for six weeks, Anderson learned from the machinists as they tweaked and adjusted computer programs to ensure the metal components they were creating met exact specifications.

He saw the amount of patience, attention to detail and problem solving required in CNC machining — and better understands now what type of personalities are best suited for the job.

“I think that was really beneficial,” said Anderson. Being able to more effectively place students “is huge for me.”

“‘Insight’ is a good word,” said Jason Lang, a program supervisor with the council’s Real World Externships for Teachers.

STEM encompasses science, technology, engineering and mathematics, so teachers in all those fields who participate in the externships are gaining a better understanding of what happens in the potential future job fields of their students.

“We just try to match the teachers’ skills and abilities with what the company has to offer,” said Lang. “The teachers get a chance to use the content knowledge that they have and apply it to the business setting. What they leave with in the end is less about the content and more about the skills students need to have in the workforce.”

This is the seventh year the University of Northern Iowa-based STEM council has operated the program, which wrapped up last month. A total of 39 teachers did everything from manufacturing to natural resources work to data analysis in businesses across Iowa.

Teachers earn a stipend and a graduate credit through the program while working at participating businesses — which have included more than 100 since it started.

There have been “over 300 externships across the state,” said Lang, during that time.

Anderson, who lives in Independence, is the automotive, woods and construction teacher at Cedar Falls High School, but he will pick up class assignments in CNC machining or welding if enrollment in those courses grows. He formerly worked in manufacturing fields for John Deere and was already curious about Geater when he learned about the externship.

Geater makes more than 7,000 parts annually for the aerospace and defense industries. The company just completed its second year with the externship program.

“The major benefit is to create those partnerships with the schools,” said Molly Mummelthie, human resources manager with Geater. She noted demand for skilled workers remains high.

Company officials believe teachers in the program will help correct misconceptions about manufacturing that sometimes keep students from considering the career field.

“If we can use the teachers to pass the information along … I think that would be a strong point,” said Rendall Wilharm, who oversaw Anderson’s work at Geater. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in Chad.”

After his experience and in light of the demand for manufacturing workers in the Cedar Valley, Anderson will advocate for expanding the CNC program at Cedar Falls High School, which he said has limited equipment.

“We need to reflect the industry a little better,” said Anderson.

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