The Advanced Manufacturing Program was presented with a $20,000 donation from Eaton on Wednesday. The program is a dual-credit course designed to create a pipeline to help bring high school students into manufacturing jobs in the area.

The initial $600,000 raised from local employers, matching grants from the state and funds from the Denison Development Alliance and Sherman Economic Development Corp. have been dedicated to equipping the $1.4 million Advanced Manufacturing Lab at Grayson College.

Sherman High junior Nicholas Foran, who is enrolled in the program, said he most enjoys the hands-on nature of it.

“I am really good at math,” Foran said. “For me, it was like a second math class. It helped me learn safety on the machines I am going to be working on.”

Foran said his career goal is to become a welder once he completes his high school education.

The Advanced Manufacturing Program was started in 2016 and is an educational partnership between 30 area industrial employers, SEDCO, the Denison Development Alliance, Grayson College and the four high schools of Sherman, Denison, Pottsboro and Whitewright. The program allows sophomore-level students to take industry focused classes at their campus before moving onto Grayson College’s Advanced Manufacturing Lab for classes as juniors and seniors. Students who successfully complete the program receive 42 hours of college credit and a nationally-recognized, Level-One skill certification. Roughly 40 students were enrolled in the program during the 2017-2018 academic year.

Emerson Plant Manager Mark Anderson, who also serves as the chair of the Advanced Manufacturing Consortium that oversees the program, accepted the check on behalf of the AMP program.

“This is all about students,” Anderson said to the team from Eaton. “It’s about the future of manufacturing in Texoma.”

Eaton interim Plant Manager Wade Lowery spoke highly of the program and its goals.

“What we’re doing is trying to build up the community’s background in manufacturing,” Lowery said.

He talked about how important it was for manufacturers to get new employees into their workforce. Lowery said over 45 percent of his company’s workers could retire in the next 10 years, with 30 percent potentially retiring in the next 30 years.

Anderson said technology has improved manufacturing by making it safer and less labor-intensive

“The kids have been kind of overwhelmed by what they see,” Anderson said. “We have parents who think of manufacturing as swinging an anvil and it’s not like that.”

Anderson said a part of the program is how often the students involved get to tour the different factories in the area to see exactly what goes on. Lowery said Eaton became involved along with other manufacturers as a way to help build up a skilled workforce they can draw upon.

“We want to give them (students) a leg up when they are starting off in the business world,” Lowery said.

Workforce Solutions Texoma Executive Director Janie Bates said donations like Eaton’s are instrumental to the program.

“These donations are very important because we advertise this as a free program,” Bates said, noting the first group of students are on track to complete the program next year. “That wouldn’t be possible without donations from our partners. It’s a golden opportunity for students to get free tuition to complete the program with over 40 hours of college credit and almost a guarantee of a job.”

Lowery said every student in the program gets a mentor to help guide them along the way.

Denison Development Alliance President Tony Kaai said donations to the program are important because grant money they raise can only be used to fund the lab at Grayson College, tuition funds have to be raised via donations.

“The industries are contributing because they want students to go to work for them,” Kaai said.

Kaai said with the average cost of the program right under $5,000 per student, Eaton’s donation would be able to help four students complete the program. He said he was very excited for the amount of interest he has seen in the program.

“It’s grown every year,” Anderson said. “There were 10 the first year. Then 40 last year. We’re on track to have over 80 this year.”

Anderson said over $145,000 has been raised from donations from manufacturers for the program.