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01/07/08 Hands-on Classroom Project Awakens Interest in Tech Careers


10/02/07 Hands-on Classroom Project Awakens Interest in Tech Careers

Center for Applied Competitive Technologies (CACT) pilots high school program

ROCKLIN, CA – At Colfax High School on October 2-3, students will have a rare opportunity to fabricate a mini-catapult, using lathes, mills, presses and other manufacturing equipment to emulate production processes. Once built, the students’ catapults will compete in a contest to see how accurately they can place sponge balls within a target area. The two-day, hands-on project meets State of California secondary education standards as well as introduces students to technical and manufacturing careers.

The Sierra College Center for Applied Competitive Technologies ( secured a grant of $121,000 per year for two years from the California Community College Chancellor’s Office, Economic Development and Workforce Preparation Division ( to establish this demonstration project. Aptly named “Tech-Explorer: Projects that move minds,” the catapult is just one of several short-term, turn-key classroom projects being developed for high school and middle school teachers.

The impetus behind the project is to inspire young people to consider careers in the design, manufacturing and repair of automated equipment.   Manufacturers are seeking employees with technical skills and there is a serious shortage of students in the pipeline to fill anticipated career openings. The U.S. Department of Labor Statistics indicates that jobs requiring science, engineering or technical training will increase by more than 24 percent to 6.3 million by 2014.

According to project manager Steve Hunter, a retired Sierra College faculty member with over 35 years of industry consulting experience, young people just aren’t aware of the excellent career opportunities. “Manufacturing today is frequently done in a very clean environment, physical strength is not required, jobs offer great variety and salaries are high,” said Hunter. “The Tech-Explorer catapult project was designed to encourage young women as well as young men to consider technical careers by providing an applied learning environment where they could successfully make a fun, useful project.”.

The CACT Tech-Explorer project being piloted first at Colfax High School is an applied academic project targeted at English, Science, History, Math and vocational classes. “Students enjoy learning by doing and traditional academic classes don’t offer many hands-on projects,” said Hunter. “Through the grant, the CACT project provides everything for the teachers – materials, mobile lab of manufacturing equipment, curriculum standards, instructional guidelines, career information, safety gear and skilled facilitators to run the project for the instructor.”

The California Community Colleges provide technical career pathways to prepare the future workforce through certificate programs, AA degrees and transfer programs to universities. But first, according to Hunter, students in middle school and high school have to develop a genuine interest in making things. “The Tech-Explorer project gives students new confidence in their ability to create something by cutting, drilling, bending, punching and assembling pieces of metal,” said Hunter. “Many students have never used equipment like this. The end result is a catapult that works and an engaged student who gains real information about relevant career opportunities.”

According to a recent poll of 9th- and 10th-graders, conducted in California by the Irvine Foundation, six in 10 students didn't particularly like school and weren't motivated to succeed. Of those disaffected students, more than 90% said they would be more motivated if their school offered classes relevant to their future careers. “The goal of this grant is to provide relevant, hands-on projects within the existing academic environment that will open students’ eyes to the excellent career opportunities in manufacturing and technology,” said Hunter.

Once the pilot is completed, the Tech-Explorer projects will be available to schools through California’s twelve Centers for Applied Competitive Technologies ( The mission of the Center for Applied Competitive Technologies is to support companies with employee training, technology deployment and industry development. Since 1997, the Sierra College CACT has supported manufacturers and technology companies in Northern California from Sacramento to the Oregon border. For more information, go to or call 916-660-7801.

Related Pages
Sierra College Center for Applied Competitive Technologies and Economic and Workforce Development
(916) 660-7801
Sierra College Training & Development
Sierra College Center for Applied Competitive Technologies (CACT)
  Placer, Nevada and parts of El Dorado and Sacramento Counties
Rocklin - Roseville Auburn Truckee Nevada City Grass Valley
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