JAMESTOWN — Four students from northern Chautauqua County have participated in a unique opportunity available through a partnership between SUNY Jamestown Community College, the Manufacturers’ Association of the Southern Tier, Erie-2 Chautauqua Cattaraugus BOCES, and the Western New York P-TECH College and Career Academy.
P-TECH, short for Pathways to Early College High School, is a multi-year program that prepares students for careers in advanced manufacturing beginning in ninth grade. Students remain enrolled in their home districts for the four years of high school, plus up to two additional years for the completion of an associate degree at JCC.
“There currently isn’t a ceiling for where P-TECH students can push themselves,” said William Smock, principal of the Dunkirk-based academy. “Through their six years in P-TECH they learn professional skills and hands-on skills that will make them highly employable. They also leave our program with no student loan debt and a foot into industry. We’ve created an excellent road map for students to take as they navigate their high school diplomas and cost-free A.A.S. degrees.”
As part of the commitment, students have the option to participate in a six-week internship, though some are faced with challenges such as reliable transportation.
To help make the internship experiences a reality, Smock, JCC president Daniel DeMarte, and MAST president Dale Gier, pooled their resources — students would complete their summer internship at Jamestown-based manufacturers, while taking a college course at JCC and living cost-free on campus at the college’s Hillside Suites. The program also gives the students access to the Chautauqua Area Regional Transit System.
“This is a great opportunity in many ways: it gives them a jump on their college coursework, it gets their foot in the door to the manufacturing industry (which their degrees align to) and it gives them a place to live during the six-week experience,” said Smock.
If students perform at a level that is satisfactory or better, the businesses — Ring Precision and and Weber Knapp — have the option of hiring the students as employees while they complete their their two-year associates in applied science degrees at JCC.
“Our number one challenge is finding a skilled workforce,” Gier, who serves as the president of Ring Precision, said. “These programs are an important initiative in helping our company develop a skilled workforce in that it connects students and educators with the world of manufacturing. Without these programs, we would struggle to build the relationships we need to build our workforce.”
The students — Jeffrey DeYoung Jr., Iann Ramirez, David Kozlowski, and Michael Lamar — have appreciated the opportunity and the experience.
“Up until coming down here to JCC, I had only been down to this area once or twice in my youth to see a few things,” said Kozlowski, a Forestville native who is interning at Ring Precision with Lamar. “This has been a really great opportunity and I feel like I’ve been able to get a headstart on things.”
Ramirez has enjoyed being treated like a professional rather than a high school student while working at Weber Knapp.
“They’re taking it a bit slower for us,” said Ramirez, a Dunkirk native. “They’ve been great at teaching us — ‘This is what you’re doing. This is how you’re doing it. Watch me do it. Can you handle it? Yes?’ and then they leave us to do it. They’re understanding and I think they’re going at a nice, steady pace for our experience.”
“They have us doing a wide variety of things, going from machine-to-machine, ” said Lamar, a Brocton native. “You get a lot of information in a short period of time, but I feel like I’ve learned so much.”
“The stuff they’ve got us doing is fun,” DeYoung, a Silver Creek native, said of his experience at Weber Knapp. “We’re cleaning parts and I was actually helping to program a welding robot.”
The students themselves have also gotten a first-hand look at the college experience.
“I’ve really enjoyed it,” said Ramirez. “We’re all hanging out and we’ve gotten closer through this. We are able to watch the (Tarp Skunks) baseball games (at next-door Diethrick Park) from the dorm room window which has been awesome. The staff here at the college have also been incredibly helpful and super nice.”
JCC has partnered with P-TECH since its inception in 2014. Four students in the first cohort — Katlyn Lawton, Luke Peterson-Reidesel, Whitney Hice, and Jordan Butterfield — received A.A.S. degrees in mechanical technology this past May.
“As I was handing each of these students their diplomas, I was so impressed to hear not only of their positive experiences in this program, but that they had several job offers to choose from,” said DeMarte. “This pilot program will only make our partnership with P-TECH and our local manufacturers stronger and my hope is to welcome even more P-TECH students to campus next summer.”
Smock agrees with DeMarte’s assessment of the program’s potential.
“It’s pretty amazing to have students who are constantly pushing the program to new levels,” he said. “This is the first time we’ve run a program like this and I can see how it can evolve into something annual and bigger.”
And for students like Ramirez, it’s already made an immediate impact.
“My readiness, willingness, and work ethic have certainly improved throughout this program,” said Ramirez. “Whether I get a job at Weber Knapp, now or in the future, I will know exactly what I’m getting into and how I can apply what I’ve learned from P-TECH.”