This spring, ROI proudly recognized organizations for innovations to improve education, economic development, and quality of place in the Indiana Uplands. This is the fourth in a series of six stories that feature winners of the Regional Innovation Awards. Their work showcases conceptual shifts, creative strategies, and commitment to action that we hope will inspire others in the region.
Student-run business is empowering students with transformative learning experiences
When Loogootee Schools partnered with Loughmiller Machine, Tool and Design to develop Lion Manufacturing, a student-run enterprise located in Loogootee High School, they set out to redefine the traditional educational experience. Students are learning to design, market, supervise, and manufacture, as well as gaining an entrepreneurial mindset and the soft skills valued by all employers. It’s a win-win-win for students, for communities, and for employers.
This transformation in student experience began with a shift in educational perspective. ROI’s Ready Schools initiative provided the initial vehicle for school administrators and staff to meet with community members and businesses to build a new, shared vision of education in Loogootee. Assistant Superintendent Dara Chezem explained the shift this way: “We’re starting a conversation about, ‘How are we doing as a school?’ Then we’re saying, ‘How can we get there?’” Forging real partnerships, she said, required educators to get out into the community, to understand the context of what skills students will need and how they’ll apply them.
Pam Loughmiller, a graduate of Loogootee Schools herself and co-owner of Loughmiller Machine, Tool & Design, underscores the importance of the shared vision to attracting industry partners: “We’ve always been willing to be involved with the school, but this provides the vehicle. We all know the workforce issues, so starting this young is important. Internships take time away from someone’s schedule when you have quotas to meet. This is different.” Rather than creating busy work for an intern, Loughmiller is able to outsource real jobs to the school program. Pam Loughmiller appreciates that administrators, teachers, and students have taken the time to visit Loughmiller Machine, Tool & Design in person and now have a deeper understanding of how Lion Manufacturing can be a true partner.
Loogootee Schools knew students needed to learn from someone with real-world expertise. Teacher Chris Woodard, with 20 years of experience in private industry as a plant manager and quality process manager, fit the bill. Chip Mehaffey told ROI, “We absolutely were blessed to find Chris at the right time. We were in the infancy stages of creating a vision through our collaborative efforts with our community leaders. The Loughmillers were a part of that; through those multiple collaborative meetings, we started seeing a vision of where we wanted to go. We knew we wanted to hire the right person and to have Chris’s experience from the industry world, was something we were fortunate to take advantage of.”
Loogootee also embraced the need to act quickly on community feedback. “If you wait until you’re ready, you might never get it done,” Assistant Superintendent Chezem advised a breakout session audience at ROI’s Annual Report to the Region. School administrators committed to doing whatever they could, right away. They met with community leaders. They visited other schools with model programs. One year later, Loogootee kids were making parts that will bracket radar equipment on US Naval vessels.
Starting conditions were definitely not ideal. For the first semester, students made parts in the back of a classroom. The workshop hadn’t been renovated since the 1960s, and the machines were old and unused. Chris Woodard laughed when he saw the Haas CNC machine that looked just like the one he’d used as a student. It hadn’t been turned on in years, for fear students would break the machine. “Well, we did break it,” student machinist Wyatt Crane admitted wryly, “but then we fixed it.”
This hands-on approach, in which students “fail forward” and learn from mistakes, has resulted in a much deeper understanding of real-world job issues. When a job for thousands of parts went wrong, students spent painstaking hours examining them to pick out the good ones. Pam Loughmiller explained why her company feels confident trusting students with their customers’ needs: “We have the quality control in place, and they follow it, just like our workers do. They did have an experience with some parts that weren’t right, and they had to correct it. So, it’s really no different. And we do make sure that the parts that we provide for them to produce are within their skill set.”
“I think that the big difference in this model,” Loughmiller continued, “is that the students are so engaged, and they own what they’re doing, where in a technical school situation, they’re just having someone show them how to do something, and they’re watching them do it. This creates a whole different element for the students. They have ownership of it.”
In its first year, Lion Manufacturing is employing students from the school’s engineering, manufacturing, art and business departments. The most important take-away for students? In the real world, “not all the answers are in the back of the book,” Woodard said, “but they’re out there, and if you work as a team, you can come up with an answer for your problem.”
And that’s just what Loogootee Schools has done, by working with its community to tailor education to fit their shared vision.