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Located in a peaceful Tucson, Arizona suburb, Desert View High School has distinguished itself as a means for the area’s teenagers to obtain not just a quality education, but also to take the first steps toward a rewarding career in advanced manufacturing.  While not seeming especially interesting at first, because many high schools across the country value their progressive curricula, it should be noted that the Desert View is rooted in a primarily low-income Hispanic community where both parents work to sustain the household.  Until recently, opportunities for the area’s youth were served from a menu of questionable activities.  Jobs beyond those considered minimum wage were few and far between.

Today, Desert View serves as a model for high schools, leading students step-by-step into a high paying workforce.  One person is most responsible for this Arizona “awakening.”  His name is Cesar Gutierrez, the school’s Precision Manufacturing teacher, who set about over four years ago to create a CAD/CAM program designed to attract students and hold their interest through graduation and beyond.  

There is a popular saying about it taking a village to raise a child and in Gutierrez’s case, it has taken a manufacturing community to raise his students’ capabilities to the point where they have a productive future.  “There are forty-two manufacturing companies in Arizona’s Pima County area that came together as Southern Arizona Manufacturing Partners to promote their industry among students, teachers, and parents,” says Gutierrez.  “They found that senior employees were retiring, with many more planning to retire in the near future, and there was not enough of a potential labor force to replace them.”  Their solution was to be proactive with the Pima County Community College and the local high schools, Desert View among them.  Their mission is to produce a highly trained, nationally accredited workforce to fill today’s manufacturing jobs.

“The very first time I met with the Partnership representatives, I knew we were going to have a good future together,” says Gutierrez.  “I could tell they were serious about challenging our kids to follow a path to a rewarding career, while at the same time, assuring their own business future.  One of the first things they did was introduce me to a program developed by NIMS (National Institute of Metalworking Skills).”  The NIMS organization has developed a whole series of manufacturing-related courses, including CNC machining, Industrial Technology Maintenance (ITM), and CAM (Computer-Aided Manufacturing) programming for CNC mills and lathes.

“I was assured that by using Mastercam® (CNC Software, Inc., Tolland, CT) for the CAM courses, I would be exposing our students to the software programs they would most likely encounter in industry,” says Gutierrez.  “Our local Partnership owners and managers also advised me as to the operating functions to look for when obtaining CNC machine tools for our school’s shop.”

Beginning freshmen are introduced to the program in a summer session, where they become familiar with the operation of manual machines,” he says.  “I want them to be comfortable with how different tooling cuts different metals.  I want them to touch and feel and even smell the experience of metalworking.”  At the end of the summer session, students are ready to begin learning the basics of programming for CNC machining.

“I love the way Mastercam works with SOLIDWORKS® CAD software,” says Gutierrez.  “In the first year, students learn how to design an easy project with SOLIDWORKS and then how to download the design to Mastercam to program the tool paths.   They learn how to program basic tool paths for contours and pockets and how to set up a part the correct way, according to Mastercam.  In the second year, they get into Mastercam’s High Speed Machining.  They are soon also learning how to ‘trick’ the machine, how to cut different arcs in different planes.  In the third year they are learning how to program in four axes for the CNC mill.  Next, they will be learning how to program up to four axes for the CNC lathe and in five axes for the CNC mill.”  Although the CAM lessons are in Mastercam, all the basic projects are determined by NIMS.  The students earn NIMS proficiency certification in various operations as they advance in the program.  “Mastercam, SOLIDWORKS, and NIMS are the three basic ingredients for the success of this program,” says Gutierrez.

“In addition to all the help our program has received from member companies in the Southern Arizona Manufacturing Partners,” he says, “Keith Butzgy, Mastercam’s corporate training manager, and David Morgan, senior advisor at NIMS, have always been available to help me as our program expands to cover a wide range of projects for our CNC machines.  Because of the faith in our program by our principle, our CTE (Career and Technical Education) coordinator, and by our district, we have been funded with nearly two million dollars for equipment that includes seven CNC mills, four CNC lathes, twelve 3D printers, a coordinate measuring machine, and forty seats of Mastercam in our CAD/CAM lab, as well as more than a dozen manual machines.  A great deal of the tooling for the machines, and literally tons of materials for student projects, come from the generous donations of the Partnership members.”   

Because the older students have become so skilled, the school has established a contract business with many of the Partner businesses.  These companies assign contracts to Desert View’s Precision Manufacturing department, much as they would do business with any contract machining shop.  “The students earn money to cover the expenses of the field trips we take to colleges, universities and manufacturing companies all over the country,” says Gutierrez.  “Some of the part runs are in the hundreds, a few even in the thousands.  We have even delivered assemblies after machining the parts on our CNC mills and lathes and then joining them with our shop’s press.”  

The school has now begun an internship program that provides seniors with a paycheck for work they contract.  “It’s run as an actual business,” says Gutierrez.  “They have to become involved in sales in order to get the business from outside sources.  They also have to handle invoicing and keep the books.  By having a hands-on approach to subjects beyond programming and machining, they are becoming even more valuable to prospective employers who look for young people who can advance into positions ranging from operations management to sales engineering.”

Mr. Gutierrez is proud of the accomplishments of his students.  “These are kids who would normally be spending their time being passionate about high scores in video games.  Instead, they are excited about programming increasingly complex tool paths in Mastercam.”  The school’s Precision Manufacturing program has not only captured the attention of the district’s teenage boys.  There are also girls mastering the programming of the CNC mills and lathes.  This is attested to in a letter Gutierrez received from Brianna Rodriquez, one of his graduating seniors.  She says, in part, “Over the past three years, there have been many boys that I’ve surpassed in rank in my classes because I was determined to be my own absolute best.  I became unafraid to assert myself in competitive situations and take charge of a project all by myself.  And if it wasn’t for this program or instructor who motivated me when I was without courage or inspiration, I wouldn’t be the confident young woman I am today.  This program has made my high school years the best they could have been.  I’ve paved a future for myself, and not just on a road to college but a road to a successful career and so much more.  I have earned work experience, confidence, troubleshooting skills, business, and management skills.  I have learned to network with people.  

“This program has also given me the opportunity,” she continues, “to break the cycle of low income in my family and to prove to myself and to others, that it never really matters where you grow up, or if you’re a boy or a girl.  Many students in this program have been given the chance to make use of their talents and abilities.  It’s helped build me up into the confident, strong young woman that I am today and instilled a strong sense of hope in my heart for a better future for myself, for my family, and for my community.”

Many of the students go directly into industry from Desert View, others continue working part-time while they are in college.  They wind up with a college degree, their NIMS certifications, and a great career.  “So far, every single one of our graduates have gone on to college or into terrific jobs they secured while in our program,” says Gutierrez.  “As a result, our local manufacturers are assured of a steady flow of new, highly skilled, employees and the entire community benefits.”

Article & Photos Supplied by Lynn Gorman Communications LLC