Source: Kingsport Times News | Hank Hayes | June 1, 2015

'Nao' was used as a robotics demo welcoming TVC members to Kingsport's Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing.

‘Nao’ was used as a robotics demo welcoming TVC members to Kingsport’s Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing.

JOHNSON CITY — A question posed at the recent Tennessee Valley Corridor (TVC) Summit may have sounded strange, but it essentially framed the daunting challenge ahead.

“Just how do you get a third-grader excited about making a wrench with a 3D printer?” Wayne Davis, dean of the University of Tennessee College of Engineering, asked at a panel discussion on developing a next-generation workforce in advanced manufacturing.

Getting millennials and other young people attracted to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers and entry-level manufacturing jobs has the full attention of higher education and corporations, summit panelists indicated during the TVC event at the D.P. Culp University Center at East Tennessee State University.

They agreed society needs to change how students view STEM.

But they also admitted uncertainty about how to solve that situation in the near future.

“Are we conveying that (STEM) excitement to the next generation?” Stephanie Hill, vice president, Information Systems and Global Solutions-Civil, Lockheed Martin, asked summit attendees. “Are we providing enough encouragement to interest young people in being the scientists and engineers for tomorrow? One thing all of us in this room know is we really need them to have an interest.”

She noted the U.S. labor market demand for core technical and engineering positions is almost triple the number of individuals available.

“By 2018, there will be more than eight million jobs in the STEM field right here in the U.S.,” Hill continued. “Yet it is projected that 1.2 million of those jobs will go unfilled because we don’t have the pipeline to fill it … We also need our manufacturing workforce to have a strong foundation in these fields. Our workforce is going to have to be better educated than it ever has been.”

Hill explained she started out as an economics major who was good at math and science, and then found an engineering career.

“I was lucky, but we can’t count on people being lucky and falling upon a career in STEM,” she stressed. “ … We can’t afford any more accidental engineers. … (Students) need early exposure to STEM subjects to have any chance of solving our shortage. … By the second grade, many girls have decided math isn’t for them and we can’t have that any more.”

Davis said that in Tennessee, there are currently about 12,000 students pursuing a four-year degree in engineering.

“But that’s nowhere near what that (number) needs to be in this state, or the Tennessee Valley Corridor region as a whole,” he told TVC attendees.

Jeff Frazier, an Eastman Chemical Co. employee and dean of the Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing (RCAM) at Northeast State Community College, explained Eastman started seeing workforce development challenges years ago.

“We started seeing that as something we had to strategically address,” he said.

RCAM was built in Kingsport’s downtown Academic Village to begin meeting those challenges, Frazier said.

Frazier gave TVC attendees an RCAM tour last Tuesday, as he does for students being sought for future Kingsport manufacturing jobs.

“The work I do today is about how we create environments and energy, not only for engineers, but for those technical-level jobs that have a two-year certificate,” he said. “We have to engage the community to make that happen. … We all get it here, but it’s going to take all of us. … We want to introduce CAD (computer-aided design) to every student in Tennessee. How do we do that? It does take a conversation at the local level.”

Davis indicated the so-called “Tennessee Promise” — a new last-dollar scholarship for graduating high school seniors to attend the state’s two-year community colleges and colleges of applied technology — might expand STEM interest in the near term.

Those two-year degrees could be transferred to a state four-year school.

“We don’t know what that (Tennessee Promise) will do to our enrollment, but we have to be prepared for that,” Davis said. “There could be a substantial increase in transfers in two years.”

Niki Werkheiser, project manager for the In-Space Manufacturing Initiative at NASA, said the attention span and interest level of current K-12 students are two problems.

“We talk to them about crew safety and they kind of glaze over,” Werkheiser said of how young students react. “We need them to understand that engineering is not a (college) degree on a wall. It’s a state of mind, it’s a mentality. … I’m not going to go to Mars, … I’m too old. It’s going to be the kids of today.”

This was the 20th year of the TVC Summit.

For more about TVC go to www.tennvalleycorridor.org.

For more about RCAM go to www.manufacturingfuture.net.