WCHS students pick up STEAM with new donated equipment
On Wednesday, Feb. 24, Woodford County High School (WCHS) students got a little STEAM in their strides, courtesy of equipment and encouragement from Clark Materials. A half-dozen officials from the Lexington-based heavy equipment manufacturer came to unveil an estimated $10,000 worth of tools for the 70 or so students in the school's manufacturing program. Before the wrap came off tools ranging from mitre saws to a CNC (computer-aided design and tooling) machine, principal Rob Akers talked about one of the the goals of the STEAM (science, technology, education, agriculture and mathematics) curriculum. "We've heard so many times that our students are not prepared to go out into the world of work and find lucrative jobs. And we hear that from our local professionals," Akers said. Akers introduced Clark Chief Executive Officer Dennis Lawrence, who told them of his company's history - and what he and the head of Clark's Asian operations, Baik Sung Hak, had in common. While "Mr. Baik," as Lawrence called him, was essentially orphaned when a boat he was on landed in South Korea the day the Korean Conflict began, neither he nor Lawrence had college degrees. (Many of the STEAM students plan to go to work directly after high school.) Baik spent his childhood cleaning up after American troops and, as a teenager, began making hats. After high school, Lawrence began making hats, too, though his were baseball caps. He'd been told by his father, upon learning his son had no plans to attend college, that he was making a big mistake. "And boy, did I find out the hard way that was probably not the smartest thing I'd ever done in my life. Because without the proper education, it makes your life exponentially more difficult, because you don't have that background," Lawrence said. Lawrence, who lives in Woodford County, came to Lexington a decade ago. Last year his company made, along with forklifts and other equipment, 68 million baseball caps. He said Mr. Baik got him kick-started and now he's trying to do same thing for WCHS students. Some of the 3,000 or so community service hours his Lexington staff provides annually have already been spent at the school, where three of Lawrence's daughters graduated. Lawrence cautioned the students that what his company donated, in terms of both equipment and expertise, wasn't a handout. Instead, it was a kick-start, just as Mr. Baik had done for him. "We believe in you guys. Make a difference. All we ask in return is (for you) make a difference," Lawrence said. Clark Vice-President of Operations Chuck Mix told them there are plenty of good jobs that don't require a university degree. "We're going to teach you things like how to read drawings, engineering drawings, how to assemble parts, how to ensure quality is right every time on a product that's being made, how to operate some of the machinery we're going to talk about here in a minute. How to use those tools to develop your experience base, so that when you walk off the street, you're not just Joe Smith, high school grad, but you're Joe Smith, two-year experienced manufacturing technician," Mix said. Before the equipment was unveiled, teacher Denise Strueh told her students, "I'm so excited to see you guys and you look so great," adding to one of them, "But you really should sit up a little." Strueh said the students did much of the work prepping the lab, which not so long ago might have been described as a shop class. "I want you to be successful so that when I'm old, you can take care of me. So that I have a nice community that I can a part of, so that I know our future is safe. . So go be great, do awesome things and realize the people who are hard on you are the ones who want you to be successful. ." Strueh said. Student Vitaly Serdyuk presented Lawrence with a "thank-you" poster full of his peers' signatures, then paid what may be the ultimate comment to Strueh. The first day of the class, he came in thinking the students wouldn't be trusted to work with equipment, "because we were going to cut our fingers off." Zero lost fingers later, Serdyuk said, "This is one of the classes that flies by - that I wish would last all day. Because it brings you in ." Standing in front of the equipment he'd be using later that day, student Victor Valdivia said, "I'm just amazed that we get to do any of this stuff," then called Strueh a ninja. "She's got our backs. Most of us are now up on our feet, able to do stuff now because she's put us through the correct training." The new equipment, Valdivia said, will help them go even further. The third student to speak, Maxton Lippert, looked at the CNC machine and mitre saw and said the only downside about receiving it then is that his senior year only has a few months to go. After a round of applause for the equipment and promises from Clark officials to continue visiting them, Akers called the day one of the coolest in his 21 years in education. "Take this, run with it, and use it as leverage to help your future," Akers said. As students and guests ate cake, Strueh stepped outside into the quieter hallway. Clark's donations of equipment and time will help her and other WCHS teachers build a self-sustaining program and give students a sense of community, she said. Clark officials have already been guest speakers and the classes will adopt their methods of manufacturing, safety procedures and accounting. They'll conduct mock-job interviews and invite them on field trips, too, she said. "We're hoping to just build our manufacturing program with Clark the whole way, and they're completely supportive, especially on the human resources side. Obviously, to be able to have them come here, take time out of their day, speak to our kids, they're more than willing to do that whenever we need," Strueh said. Then it was time for the ninja teacher to slip back inside before all the cake - made the old-fashioned way, not with a CNC machine - disappeared.