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Careers take center stage at Manufacturing Show

CVTC Automation Engineering Technology student Shane Antonson of River Falls, right, explains the workings of a robotic arm to Thaddeus Sykora of New Auburn during the CVTC Manufacturing Show March 7. Submitted photo1 / 2
Charles Girdeen of Plum City signs his commitment to CVTC’s Industrial Mechanical Technician program and a career in advanced manufacturing in a ceremony leading into the CVTC Manufacturing Show March 7. At left is Austin Pabst of Ellsworth, who completed his signing of a commitment to the Industrial Mechanic program. Submitted photo2 / 2

Visiting Chippewa Valley Technical College's Manufacturing Show March 7, Jan Gunderson of River Falls proudly showed a card identifying him as a 1960 graduate of what was then called the Eau Claire Technical Institute in the Machine Shop program.

"We were a lot different then," Gunderson said, comparing the manual machines to the modern equipment he saw in today's Machine Tooling Technics lab. "We headed over there right away," he added.

But that's not all Jan and his wife, Sharon saw. In the Automation Engineering technology lab they were able to say hello to a fellow River Falls resident, Shane Antonson, who was demonstrating how a robotic arm could be programmed to do a variety of tasks. A fourth semester student, Antonson is already putting to work the skills he's gained in his job at Preco, a provider of precision laser and die cutting equipment in Somerset.

Getting more people like Antonson interested in careers in manufacturing is one of the purposes of CVTC's annual Manufacturing Show, held at the Manufacturing Education Center in Eau Claire. The show drew high school students, parents and community members alike for a firsthand look at modern manufacturing through CVTC's Automation Engineering Technology, Industrial Mechanical Technician, Machine Tooling Technics, Manufacturing Engineering Technologist, Mechanical Design, and Welding programs.

Over 50 local manufacturing companies were also represented with display tables highlighting their products and job opportunities, with many on active recruiting missions during a student career fair just prior to the show's opening.

"This is an opportunity to show off the technology of modern manufacturing," said CVTC Dean of Engineering and Skilled Trades Jeff Sullivan. "The Manufacturing Show brings together alumni and people in the area, and shows off student projects. Our manufacturing partners come in and show the things they're doing."

The Gundersons were impressed. "This was just awesome. We enjoyed this so much," Jan said as they prepared to leave after touring all the programs.

Before the show started, CVTC welcomed 23 new students from 19 school districts, with a "signing day" demonstrating their commitment to entering a modern manufacturing career through one of CVTC's programs.

It was big moment for Cole Pelzel of Spring Valley. The high school senior sat at a table on a raised platform in a room full of people and signed a commitment to his future. Applause followed. For Pelzel, it will start with the Industrial Mechanical Technician program.

"It felt like a big moment, and it made you feel special, too," Pelzel said.

Charles Girdeen of Plum City also signed a commitment to the Industrial Mechanical Technician program. "In industrial mechanics you can do pretty much everything — electrical, pneumatics and hydraulics. I chose CVTC because I had seen it before. My brother took welding classes here and I was able to walk around and find a program I liked."

The career choice seemed natural to Pelzel. "I always liked to work on things like big machinery," he said. "It makes me feel good to keep it moving. And CVTC is a local school. I never wanted to go away to a four-year school. This is something I enjoy doing, and I'm sure I'll find a good job doing this."

Kendra Weber, CVTC recruitment and business development manager, said the signing ceremony was modeled on one held by a national organization honoring students choosing technical education.

"We wanted to bring it to a more local level and we felt aligning it with the Manufacturing Show and the career fair would be a good fit," Weber said. "It's a way to recognize our incoming students for their commitment."

During the show, robotics clubs from several area school districts competed in the VEX Robot Challenge in which robots they constructed were designed to complete a series of tasks. Both middle and high school students took part in an event that was both fun and educational.

"The students are getting a lot of practice at creative problem-solving and teamwork skills," said Michele Huppert, science teacher at Menomonie High School and the team's mentor. "They are finding their talents and learning how to maximize the talents on the team."

With over 95 programs and both online and on-campus classes, Chippewa Valley Technical College delivers superior, progressive technical education which improves the lives of students, meets the workforce needs of the region, and strengthens the community. CVTC programs are designed with input of business and industry to prepare graduates for today's jobs, with 93 percent employed within six months of graduation and associate degree graduates earning an average annual salary of $44,000.