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Science and the Environment

GOCAPS: Building Strong Engineers and Manufacturers at a Younger Age

It’s just after 8:00 am on a Friday morning and I’m surrounded by 17 area high school juniors and seniors, dressed in business-casual attire and reflecting upon their week. This is the first day back in their typical GO CAPS classroom after spending the previous four days on site at Springfield businesses.  The group has been learning important aspects of professionalism, and what these businesses have to offer in engineering and manufacturing.  One of those students is Wyatt Comstock.

“ The business things they’re teaching us now in GOCAPS …how you should act in a business environment and all of the manufacturing stuff we’re seeing now really gives the experience of what you can do when you get out of high school.  Like we’ve learned the dress code, how to act in an interview, how to write an email, how to leave a voicemail for someone,” explains Comstock. 

Comstock is a senior at Strafford High School who has plans to go to welding school after he graduates high school.  He enjoys the freedom to go to different places and appreciates being able to focus on a field of interest rather than normal “everyday” broad high school classes.  He believes this experience is better preparing him for what he wants to do.

“I think what’s different is they get you out in the world.…where in [tradition] high school you can’t really go to these places.  They actually take you there, show you what it’s like and give you the hands-on experience that you’d need to where you could really just go right into that job after high school,” Comstock says.

Overall there are 34 students like Comstock in the engineering and manufacturing strand this year representing area participating schools—large and small.  Darrin Erhart, GOCAPS instructor, shares the larger group is divided into two smaller classes—one morning, one afternoon. 

“As a group, as a whole team, you know all 16-17 students are getting the opportunity to see these various operations.  Now the next part of the program will be for us to work with our business partners to arrange job shadowing opportunities and to arrange projects,” Erhart says.

Many of the opportunities, Erhart explains, students have to apply for like any job, with a cover letter and resume, as the students compete for limited positions with certain businesses.  He adds that many businesses partner with GOCAPS by providing funds, project opportunities, equipment, and host presentations.

This classroom space at East Division is being offered through SRC Holdings. Krisi Schell is organizational development manager.  She shares the company has several businesses throughout Springfield—two adjacent to the classroom—providing a unique opportunity for students.  Schell says two of last year’s students began working at SRC businesses after graduation because of their experience and education.   It’s crucial, she says, to expose this generation to all of the options the workforce has to offer---because big changes are coming for employers.

“It’s projected that 77 percent of Baby Boomers will be leaving the work force by 2030.  That’s 77 percent of those with trade skills and that’s a vast gap in our workforce needs,” explains Schell.

Beth Ipok, executive strategist for Central States Industrial (CSI), agrees the impending gap is concerning, but the opportunities for others to fill the void is strong.  Ipok’s enthusiasm is contagious as she shares the history of this company, which was started by her parents in the late 1970s. It makes stainless steel components for numerous businesses, including the pharmaceutical, brewery and dairy industries. 

Pride, hard work and opportunity are core principals she indicates are some of the shared values of the GOCAPS program.   While college is often a component of many of the manufacturing and engineering opportunities, says Ipok, not all good jobs require a 4-year college degree.

“People can have a lot of dignity just doing a good job.  And all we need to do is let parents, teachers and counselors know what’s here in Springfield—because they don’t know.   And this is a good way to do it,” Ipok shares.

Bret Soden is principal at Strafford High School where Comstock attends.  He agrees that many people still don’t know all of the opportunities out there—but because of this program they’re learning.

“When the GOCAPS program was originally in the works for southwest Missouri, Dr. Jungmann [SPS superintendent] and some of his people actually took us to some businesses in Springfield.  And as an educator that was kind of unique because I kind of forgot what the rest of the world looked like,” shares Soden.

A native of Strafford, Soden has been principal for the past 11 years.  While Soden admits he is still somewhat “old school” regarding education, he also recognizes how much times have changed and that learning today looks very different from 10 or 20 years ago.  

“The way we learned back then is not the way kids learn today.”

So whether it’s offering new technology or affording students more hands-on experience and professional interactions, Soden says the goal is to prepare them for the future.

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