Engineers offer window into workplace

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Part of the mission statement at Wilson Academy of Applied Technology is to provide students with authentic industry experience.

Ninth-graders benefited recently from hearing insight from three engineers in the fourth panel discussion held at the school focusing on the four courses of study offered: engineering, biotechnology, information technology and applied engineering technology.

Krystal Cox, principal at WAAT, said participating industry leaders don’t often get very much spotlight on the things that they have really done to help the school.

“Our community partners have really come to the table to support our students, to help them understand about the different programs of study,” Cox said.

The vision behind WAAT is “bridging the gap between industry and education, we will create the next generation of workforce-ready citizens and innovative thinkers.”
Cox said that most students coming to the ninth grade don’t really have a deep understanding of the different career options that are here in Wilson.

“The community partners have come to the table to share about the daily ins and outs of these specific careers so the students can get an understanding of which pathway of those four choices that they might be most interested in,” Cox said. “It really opens up their understanding. Students often say that they want to be an engineer, but there are so many types.

“There’s manufacturing, there’s civil, there’s mechanical, there’s electrical. It just helps the student make a more sound decision when they get ready to chose their pathway.”

In the last discussion, three Wilson-area engineers answered student questions about education and what an average day looks like for an engineer.

Charlotte Atkinson, an engineer with 3C Store Fixtures who designs and engineers store fixtures, said her main challenge is organization and getting everything done that needs to be done.

“We have numerous customers and they are all different, and they all have different types of fixtures and everything has to be done at the same time,” Atkinson said. “We have to organize and prioritize. I usually try to do that at the beginning of the day and decide what needs to go first in what order, and I try to set goals and times to have things done.”

Cary Kalamajka of Stephenson Millwork, a project engineer who engineers commercial cabinetry for hospitals and colleges, said there is a new and different challenge every single day.

“Never once is it the same problem, and that’s our engineer’s job, to make sure that we don’t have the same problem twice,” Kalamajka said.

Ray Winslow of UTC Aerospace is a manufacturing engineer whose primary function is manufacturing engineering support for machining assembly of fire extinguishing systems. “You are going to have a scenario where you won’t get bored with your job,” Winslow said. “Every day is a new challenge, and it feels good to go home knowing that I had a part of it. I fixed it, or OK, this is going to be a week-long or could even be a month-long, and in some cases we’ve got year-long projects, so there is stuff to do all throughout the day. You just have to be able to think on your feet.”

Atkinson said she never realized how important math would be in her job.

“I didn’t think I would use all of that stuff, but the fixtures we do now, some of them are really complicated, and they are not just square boxes,” Atkinson said. “They have angles. They have radiuses.”
Atkinson said she needed both math and science way more than she ever thought she would in her everyday life.

Kalamajka said engineers don’t necessarily have to remember all of the super high-end math stuff.

“Learning how to add and subtract in your head, divide, some of the basic stuff, will save you hours in a day,” Kalamajka said. “If you think I am kidding, I’m not. How much math do we do in our head every day? Hours and hours and hours, and the majority of it is multiplication in our head, converting things in our head. It’s not Pythagorean theorem. It’s not high level math. Does that stuff come into play? Yes. So pay attention to it. You will need the concept of it at some point. The biggest thing I can say is to just brush up on your general elementary, middle school and basic maths and it will make your life in engineering easier.”

Winslow’s background is in machining where geometry is used every day.

“When you are a machinist and you are creating C and C programs to control your computer machine, you have to know geometry,” Winslow said. “That sort of thing comes into play all of the time.”

Kalamajka said one his biggest challenges is communication.

“That is very important in all businesses, not just engineering,” Kalamajka said. “Me communicating with others, and others communicating with me. Sharing of information. Just because you think you are telling somebody what you think they need to hear doesn’t mean you are giving them all the information they need. We can always do a better job of communicating.”

All three said that having a familiar with common computer applications such as Word and Excel are important.

Cox said that having access to industry professionals will help students who are sitting on the fence about what career pathway to take.

“They are taking time out of their schedules to come and talk to the kids and they are allowing us to take tours of the various facilities,” Cox said. “Some of the folks that are here today are part of our advisory board, and they are helping us to understand the industry itself so that we can figure out different ways we can integrate what a student would do in the workplace in with our common core and essential standards, so they have really played a big part in what our school has become so far. It’s awesome that they can do that for us.”