SME Education Foundation COVID Grant Helps THINC Academy Pivot to Online Learning

Posted By: Therese Schustrich, Account Executive Workforce Education, Tooling U-SME on May 19, 2021

A student studies additive manufacturing discipline online

In the wake of COVID-19, stay-at-home mandates upended the educational experience for high school students across the country.

In response, the SME Education Foundation partnered with Tooling U-SME in April 2020 to raise funds for online learning licenses for career and technical education (CTE) students across the country to help support the transition to virtual learning.

With generous donations from Arconic Foundation, Caterpillar Inc., Amazon and SME members, the 90-day campaign raised more than $43,000 for Tooling U-SME licenses, benefiting 403 students at 11 schools.

This program provided learning opportunities to high school students in 12 manufacturing disciplines, including additive manufacturing, mechatronics and smart manufacturing.



THINC College & Career Academy Grant

One of those schools was THINC College & Career Academy in LaGrange, Ga.

Now, a year later, with a second pandemic school year ending, we checked in with THINC to see how things have progressed.

“Last spring, school was suspended, with no face-to-face instruction,” said Dean Leroux, mechatronics instructor at THINC Academy. “We didn’t have a lot of online options or resources.”

Leroux reached out to Tooling U-SME and tapped into the company’s offer of a free CTE bundle of five online classes through the CTE Coalition.

These classes, aligned with industry certifications, allowed THINC to start shifting to a distance-learning format.

“These classes were our first venture into the online world to do technical training,” said Leroux.

Through this relationship, the Tooling U-SME team identified THINC as a school that could benefit from SME Education Foundation support. The grant from the foundation, which provided 67 Tooling U-SME subscriptions, helped to propel the school more quickly into an online curriculum allowing them to adapt to the changes.

“The grant was huge because this was not a planned expense and it would have been really hard to come up with a realistic alternative to reach the kids at home,” said Leroux.

In mid-August 2020, at the start of the next school year, THINC moved to a hybrid approach with both face-to-face and online learners.

“It was a challenge to figure out how to get the students at home the common information,” said Leroux. “Tooling U-SME allows us to ensure everything is consistent.”

Currently, the school has 135 Tooling U-SME “seats” available for students.

Some of the virtual students have now returned for face-to-face instruction.

“When those students got back to the lab, they did well catching up and moving to hands-on instruction based on the technical information in the Tooling U-SME videos,” said Leroux.



Work-based Learning System

The Tooling U-SME curriculum fits well with THINC’s work-based learning system, which prepares students for the three ‘E’s: Enrolled, Employed, Enlisted, Leroux said.

Juniors and seniors often apply for work-based learning opportunities with local manufacturers. Some continue to work with the employers after graduation with manufacturers often helping with tuition reimbursement. Other graduates are studying aerospace engineering, mechatronics and other STEM topics at four-year educational institutions.

Leroux intends to continue using Tooling U-SME to develop the curriculum. He recommends instructors go in and preview the modules so that they can highlight and blend that learning into what students do in the classroom.

“Tooling U-SME is a really robust tool and beneficial for everyone,” Leroux said. “It’s a tremendous help.”



Continued Online Learning

Rob Luce, SME Education Foundation vice president, said that the Foundation’s campaign helped high school students have access to premium-quality online career and technical education opportunities during the pandemic. While some schools had contemplated adding online learning options before the health crisis, many had not yet implemented it.

“The pandemic increased the speed at which online curriculum was implemented,” Luce said. “Now that schools have integrated distance learning, we are hearing from them that it’s here to stay as part of a comprehensive CTE program.”

This is only one of the organization’s workforce development initiatives. As the philanthropic arm of SME, the Foundation inspires, prepares and supports the next generation of manufacturing and engineering talent. The Foundation provides curated experiences for thousands of high school students at SME conferences and tradeshows and builds hands-on manufacturing programs in high schools across the country. The Foundation also awards millions of dollars in scholarships every year to graduating high school seniors and both undergraduate and graduate students. Through its SME PRIME program, the Foundation has reached over 100,000 students in 62 schools across 22 states.

To learn more about the SME Foundation’s programs, please visit smeef.org or Tooling U-SME’s online training courses:

Contact Us



Tags: Amazon, "Arconic Foundation", Caterpillar, "COVID grant", CTE, "Dean Leroux", "Rob Luce", "SME Education Foundation", "SME PRIME", "THINC College and Career Academy"