Grayson College’s newly completed Advanced Manufacturing Lab is set to provide high school students a completely free education and work experience. The $1.4 million lab will provide space for large industrial machinery, classrooms and storage space, and will largely be used to educate students participating in the school’s Advanced Manufacturing Program.

Chairman of the Texas Workforce Commission Andres Alcantar said the driving force for the program is local leaders, Workforce Solutions Texoma, Grayson College, the Denison Development Alliance, Sherman Economic Development Corp. and employers coming together.

“The work here reflects the different stakeholders coming together around a common need,” Alcantar said. “The need is to identify a challenge out there, which is also an opportunity. It is moving forward with an idea, culminating in an investment, that we are proud to support and partner on.”

The Advanced Manufacturing Program was established in 2016 and places area high school students in a series of classes and internships meant to provide them with the skills and certifications needed for manufacturing careers. Students enter the program during their sophomore year of high school and take introductory classes on their campuses, before shifting over to Grayson College full time for more advanced courses. The program welcomed 25 students during the 2016-2017 school year and included another 39 students for the current school year.

Chair of Advanced Manufacturing Technologies Alan McAdams said the creation of the curriculum was steered by local industries.

“We pulled together a list of courses from other colleges across the state that have a similar program,” McAdams said. “We threw those all into one group and sent it out to everyone in the local industry. We sent out 30 and had around 18 respond. We asked them to choose their top 12. Then, when we had a meeting face to face, we weeded out everything and ended up with the curriculum we have.”

McAdams explained that in the 15 years he has worked at the college, he has never before seen the local industry become so involved in a program.

“This is very unique,” McAdams said. “You’re offering something to families who cannot afford the cost of college, and books are amazingly expensive. Some of the books we have purchased for them with industry money are costing $250 a piece. You have to buy one for each course. That’s a huge expense when you are talking about 10 courses.”

Local industry leaders have promised students enrolled in the Advanced Manufacturing Program will not have to pay for anything, including books, while they are in high school. The program is designed for students to join at the beginning of their junior year. McAdams said the curriculum is centered around machining but still incorporates other aspects of the industry.

“Three out of the 10 courses are machining,” McAdams said. “The courses include PLC (Programmable Logic Controllers), basic electricity, motor control, quality control, math for the trades and blueprint. It’s a unique program but it’s not the first in the state. We used Alamo Learning Academy out in San Antonio as somewhat of a blueprint. I called the director of their program and he helped point us in the right direction.”

McAdams said students that begin on time should have their level one certificate complete by the beginning of their senior year.

The summer after their senior year, students take two final courses. One of the courses is an internship with a local manufacturing company. The students are paid and receive college credit for the internship. At the end of the summer, students receive their Level 2 certificate and can begin work full time.

McAdams explained the college hopes the students will want to continue pursuing their associate’s degree after beginning work.

“Hopefully their employer will help them pay for that,” McAdams said. “The industry has guaranteed not one student will pay tuition nor buy a book while in high school. They pick up the entire cost.”

The lab includes manually controlled lathes and mills as well as two computer numerical control machines, known as CNCs. A lathe is designed to shape wood, metal and other materials placed in the jaws of the machine. A rotating drive turns and a cutting tool shapes the material. A mill is designed to smooth and make even metal surfaces and other materials.

The CNC machines were already owned by the college and serve as an automation for machine tools. The machines operate via integrated computers that execute pre-programmed sequences of commands.

The college already owned one manually operated lathe and one manual mill. Seven brand new lathes and seven new mills were purchased through donations and grants.

McAdams explained the variety in brands and age between the newly purchased machines and the pre-existing ones are actually good things from a training standpoint.

“We have some diversity with different brands,” McAdams said. “Each brand programs a little differently. You want some diversity. The basic principal is the same but you want that student to have to work on two or three different brands because they all set up a little different. The controls are different from one to the next.”

Alcantar said the program is an opportunity for students to go into an academic setting and learn skills that are in high demand.

“The equipment that I see here today is amazing,” Alcantar said. “It’s a big win for the community.”

Workforce Development Texoma Executive Director Janie Bates said $200,000 was already leveraged from the state Workforce Commission and more may be on the way.

“We are expecting another $100,000,” Bates said. “That is a huge part of the $696,000 it takes to make this the type of manufacturing lab that it needs to be.”