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Loogootee High School Implements Machine Tool Program

Loogootee Senior High School junior Sean Page makes aluminum parts for Lion Manufacturing. (Zach Herndon, WTIU/WFIU News)

Students at Loogootee Senior High School are learning how to use machine tools.

For an hour every day, they work in the school’s engineering lab. They’re getting course credit and they’ll earn a grade, but they’re getting something else too – experience that could lead to a future career.

Junior Sean Page is putting that experience to good use on a Thursday afternoon. He talks through the process of making an aluminum foot, about one inch long, that will eventually be used on a radar system on a U.S. Navy ship. It’s a small piece of a big puzzle.

“You turn the machine on, you check to make sure the emergency stop is still working,” he says. “If not, you’re not supposed to make a part.”

Page powers up the machine and it grinds to a start.

The project is a student-run business called Lion Manufacturing. It’s the brainchild of the school district and Regional Opportunity Initiatives, an Indiana non-profit that awards grants to bolster workforce development in schools.

Raw aluminum blocks are used to make the "feet" that Lion Manufacturing produces. (Zach Herndon, WTIU/WFIU News)

Exposing students to manufacturing and STEM programs is one of the governor’s top priorities. In this year’s State of the State address, he called Indiana’s workforce shortage the defining issue of the decade.

“Right now, we have 85,000 jobs in Indiana unfilled because employers simply can’t find the people equipped with the skills they need,” Holcomb says.

Today, Lion Manufacturing is just one machine, a dry-erase board covered in numbers and some scattered materials and finished parts.

The program based off of something similar being run at a high school in Strum, Wisconsin. Students there worked with a local manufacturing company to make parts.

Earlier this year, a team of people from Loogootee and Regional Opportunity Initiatives (ROI) visited Strum to see if it was possible to replicate their program.

“It was just like a light switch for me, because I could see – I could just envision the possibilities of a program like this working at the high school,” says Pam Loughmiller, co-owner of Loughmiller Machine & Tool. She made the trip to Strum as a member of ROI.

Loughmiller owns and operates the Loogootee manufacturing shop with her husband, and they worked with the school district to start Lion Manufacturing.

In addition to advice and equipment, they lent one of their long-time employees, Mitchell Mathias, to the high school to get Lion Manufacturing up and running.

A Loughmiller Machine & Tool employee works with a machine in the company's warehouse. (Zach Herndon, WTIU/WFIU News)

“There was never anything like that when I was going through high school, so I’m kind of living vicariously through these kids,” Mathias says. “I want them to have the opportunity to see what there is out there, because I had no idea, going through high school, what I was going to do.”

Lion Manufacturing will prepare students like Sean to pursue a college degree or enter the workforce straight out of high school.

Loughmiller says that’s not her only goal.

“But obviously, the hope for us is that we are growing a new workforce,” she says.

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