SME Education Foundation COVID Grant Helps THINC Academy Pivot to Online Learning
Therese Schustrich, Account Executive Workforce Education, Tooling U-SME on
May 19, 2021
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
“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
Amazon, "Arconic Foundation", Caterpillar, "COVID grant", CTE, "Dean Leroux", "Rob Luce", "SME Education Foundation", "SME PRIME", "THINC College and Career Academy"