Exploration begins

by Jim Boyle

Elk River High School senior Matt Engler has known since he was a small child he wanted to grow up to be a diesel mechanic.

At age 8, he announced he would work for Morrell someday. That was during his move from South Florida to Elk River as he drove by the trucking firm on 171st Avenue and saw its fleet of shiny green trucks with yellowish-gold trim sitting outside.

Engler, now 18, works at Morrell washing those 18-wheelers he someday hopes to service as a mechanic after earning a diesel mechanic’s degree from Hennepin Technical College.

Submitted photo
Matt James, co-owner of M&M Precision Machining, met with Elk River High School computer science, metals, graphic communications and robotics students while they were on a Manufacturing Week field trip.

Not all of his classmates at Elk River High School are so certain about their future career plans, even as high school seniors. That’s one of the reasons Elk River High School  filled two buses with students from various shop classes to tour M&M Machine, J&J Machine, Metal Craft Machine and Engineering, and Alliance Machine for an exploratory field trip.

During the exploratory tours, students learned how the manufacturers designed, cut and quality tested parts they manufacture. The tours were all part of Minnesota’s Manufacturing Week, which pulled the city of Elk River, local manufacturers and Elk River High School together for the day.

Elk River High School teachers John Peterson (computer science), Jon Ostercamp (industrial technology: CAD), Paul Nelson (metals) and Shane Netzinger (graphic communications) attended the field trips to the Elk River manufacturers. Most also went to Gladwin Machinery in Minneapolis, including robotics teacher Mark Durand.

Conner Swiggert and Dakota Sykes were among the students from Elk River High School to visit Gladwin Machinery in Minneapolis to learn about various careers in the manufacturing industry.

“I thought it was great to open up people’s eyes to see what’s out there,” Engler said.

Engler was interested and amazed at what could be done with the machines in the two plants he visited, especially the ones that aided diesel technology.

Conner Swigart, whose interests at school reside in drafting and graphic communications and has entrepreneurial pursuits in mind after high school, was jazzed up about the recent field trip to Gladwin Machinery. That’s where this student with the mind of an engineer was able to meet with business owners and inventors of machines.

“I saw lots of machinery I never even knew existed,” he said. “It opened my eyes to new inventions and new ideas.”

Dakota Sykes went on the same trip and came away inspired. As a freshman in high school with interests in graphics and robotics and ideas about getting into computer-aided design (CAD) and engineering, he asked many questions about how they used CAD and how they applied it. He even came away with a CD he now carries with him that has information on Laser QC machining.

Stories like that excite Elk River High School Principal Terry Bizal. He says the exploratory component is important for kids and parents.

Sykes needs little to  convince him of the value. In fact, he said he hopes future classes at Elk River High School will give him more opportunities to meet with engineers to talk about applying what they learn.

“We need to be given problems and told to find a solution,” Sykes said. “And not multiple choice questions and answers. But let us do something and tell us if our solution was effective or defective.”

He recognizes, however, that leaving the school has a drawback. “I missed math class and I didn’t know how to do my assignment,” he said.

Zack Keller, a 17-year-old Elk River High School senior, went to M&M Machine and J&J Machine. He wasn’t all that impressed by the jobs they offered. They seemed boring to him. It made him appreciate more his interest in welding and metal work that he’s exploring as a potential career option.

“It was nice to narrow down my thinking,” he said.

Mariah Kasper, a 17-year-old senior, doesn’t need to narrow down her career path. She’s committed to attending Farrier Minnesota School of Horseshoeing, which is billed as the premiere farrier school in the United States.

She’s a metals student right now and she found the field trip to two Elk River machine shops fascinating.

“Maybe there’s an extension to my career path,” she said when pressed.

Kasper was more impressed with the smaller of the two manufacturers, saying she would feel more comfortable in such a setting.

“I like things like this,” she said. “I’m a hands-on person. I couldn’t just go and sit in a school for eight years.”

The Nowthen girl who has grown up with horses imagines a life filled with fixing horses.

“You can take a lame horse and make them walk,” she says with a gleam in her eye.

Swigart has that same look when he talks about investing in assets, buying land and establishing powerful networks that could make business more efficient.

And, of course, so does Engler when he talks about ripping apart a diesel engine to fix something and then putting it back together.