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Advanced manufacturing program at CCRI allows high school students to earn certificate

Advanced manufacturing program at CCRI allows high school students to earn certificate

Eleven juniors from North Kingstown High School (NKHS) are taking advantage of a unique learning opportunity through the Community College of Rhode Island’s latest High School Enrichment Dual-Enrollment initiative.

Beginning this fall, CCRI’s Physics and Engineering Department partnered with NKHS to launch a free Advanced Manufacturing Program for high school students interested in earning a Manufacturing and Design Certificate, which requires 18 credits, in addition to continuing in the college’s pre-associate program, where students take additional general education courses required by the Advanced Manufacturing and Design Associate in Science degree to earn a total of 27 college credits. 

All students who complete the program, which runs concurrent with their junior and senior years of high school, are eligible for the Rhode Island Promise Scholarship if they enroll the semester immediately following high school graduation. Those who stay on board for the pre-associate program can complete their associate degree at CCRI in one year if enrolled full time. There are no prerequisites for students to join.

As part of the program, students attend courses one day per week at CCRI’s state-of-the-art manufacturing lab at the Warwick Campus for what amounts to the duration of an entire school day in addition to one distance learning course. In the summer prior to their senior year, the students will participate in an on-sight internship with General Dynamics Electric Boat, the primary builder of submarines for the United States Navy for more than 100 years and a longtime partner with CCRI’s Division of Workforce Partnerships. Over the duration of this program, NKHS students will learn everything from how to build machine parts with 3D printers to the basics of CNC (computer numerical control) and manual machining.

“What’s unique is no other college has done this for manufacturing, and quite possibly no one else has done it where students can come here and earn a certificate,” said CCRI Department of Physics and Engineering Professor and Chair D. Matthew Rieger, who developed the program along with Director of Concurrent Enrollment Sandra Nolan and Dean of Business, Science, Technology, and Mathematics Barbara Nauman.

“They’re learning the skills necessary to enter the workforce in an industry that provides very good job security in a variety of roles. Since 2010, the state’s manufacturing output has increased by 31 percent from $4.04 billion to $5.28 billion and this program is a unique opportunity for students to earn a certificate and the potential to get a head start on earning an associate degree that will provide them the skills to be competitive in the CNC manufacturing labor market in both our state and the surrounding region.”

According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean wage of a CNC machinist in May 2021 was $24.73/hour ($51,450/year) in Rhode Island and $26.95/hour ($56,050/year) in Massachusetts. “While the certificate is sufficient for entry-level employment,” according to Reiger, “the associate degree provides students more advanced technical skills in addition to communication and soft skills that provide a competitive edge in the labor market.” Earning an associate degree also allows students to compete for higher-paying jobs in addition to management positions and a much quicker advancement in their company’s pipeline.

While Rieger developed the NKHS cohort, the courses are taught by Engineering Technical Professor Ray Ankrom, who specializes in CNC machine programming and operation and has been with the college for more than 30 years.

“Matt and Ray have been fantastic,” Nolan said. “The program is very hands-on right away. Students begin learning the basics of machining and as they move further along, they learn more about automated machining, how to draw parts, how to feed the drawing into a machine, and then run the machine. It’s a very detailed and technical process.”

Nolan, who works with Career and Technical Education Coordinator Erica Rosenblum to facilitate CCRI’s P-TECH (Pathways in Technology Early College High School) program at various Rhode Island high schools, notes that this newly-launched cohort with NKHS is similar to the Westerly High School P-TECH Advanced Manufacturing pathway where many students have jobs with industry partners before they graduate.

“There’s a huge demand in this field and these students will be on the fast track toward earning a sustainable wage in a very competitive market,” she said. “We also encourage them to stay, enroll at CCRI, earn an associate degree, and focus on high-demand, high-wage salaries in management. We want to instill in them the idea of looking at this as more than just a job, but rather a career.”

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