Students with the Texoma Regional Consortium’s Advanced Manufacturing Program met with local industry mentors and leaders Wednesday for a luncheon as part of mid-year celebrations. The program is the latest part of initiatives by local economic developers to create a path for students to train for locally available jobs in manufacturing, industrial maintenance and health care.

“You are an important part of the community and an important part of what we will be in years to come,” Consortium Chairman Mark Anderson said to the group of 41 students at the Sherman Municipal Ballroom.

Workforce Solutions Texoma Executive Director Janie Bates said the idea to partner students with mentors in local industries came following the first year of the program when several students left the program. In order to increase retention, Bates said organizers arranged for each student to have their own mentor to assist them and give them advice throughout their studies.

Wednesday’s luncheon was one part of larger activities in celebration of the end of the first semester of studies for first-year students in the program. Earlier in the morning, the students took a tour of area industrial employers and plants where they may work in the future.

Throughout the year, Bates said officials with the program have held events aimed at bringing together the mentors with their students. As an example, Bates said Whitesboro students gathered for a Christmas party in December.

During Wednesday’s festivities, each student was also given a jacket in their school colors emblazoned with the logo for the program. Anderson said many of the students in the program are not in area athletic programs and he hoped the jackets, which were donated by Eaton and Emerson Process Management, would replace the letter jackets their classmates wore. Through these jackets, he hoped that the students could find pride in their involvement in the program.

Under the Advanced Manufacturing Program, students are given the opportunity to earn both college credits and certifications for manufacturing skill sets while in high school. While the first year of the program is spent in the classroom, the second and third years of study include courses during the morning at Grayson College’s new Advanced Manufacturing Lab, which officially opened last week.

Following graduation, students must go through a paid internship before they are awarded two professional certifications in manufacturing technology.

Since October, George Farinelli has met with his student mentee every other week for 90 minutes at the Denison High School library. Farinelli, who retired as a vice president at Raytheon, said the last few weeks have been spent tutoring in Algebra.

While his student passed Algebra I last year, he had some difficulty and is worried with Algebra II looming in his junior year. Farinelli purchased a few study guides to help tutor on the topic, he said.

“Today, we were talking and he said, ‘Maybe next time you can help me with drafting,’” Farinelli said.

Denison High School junior Cecil Helms was partnered with Steve Davis, a retired dean of workforce education for Grayson College. Helms said he first learned about the Advanced Manufacturing Program two years ago when his class was called into the lecture hall to discuss the options it gave students who wanted to go directly into the workforce.

“Not a lot of the people took advantage of it, but I thought it could be a way to make a lot of money,” Helms said.

Helms is now in his second year with the program and hopes to start working with actual machines at Grayson College in the coming weeks. Following his work this year, he said he hopes to start internships with area employers, prior to working full time. Of the employers in the area, Helms said he wants to intern with Eaton the most, based on his previous tours of the plant.

“For the most part, they are laid back, but man do they get things done,” he said.