2014-10-23 / Around Town

Manufacturing Career Path Outlined

STEM plan could reboot moribund R.I. industry with full student degrees
By James Merolla

Imagine getting an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree or even a Ph.D. in manufacturing – for those high school and middle school students who gravitate toward engineering and using their hands.

Further, imagine it in Newport County in a state that has seen thousands of manufacturing jobs head overseas or shut down entirely.

It’s not stem cell research, but Newport County’s STEM (Science, Technology, Education and Math) research that may make a local high school and middle school mentoring program state-of-the-art.

Outgoing Middletown Town Council President Chris Semonelli updated the council and its audience on the progress of the STEM Newport County Mentor Co-op Group with big ideas to connect students to big careers.

“It’s a volunteer group that represents the legislative community, the educational community and the business community. Our purpose is to mentor high school groups, to give them manufacturing experiences every 30 days. Every 60 days we send them to the Naval War College, the [local] hospital, Raytheon, twice. They have interaction with engineers, and get a feel for the careers that are out there.

“We identify the needs in businesses and develop the programs for students, so that, in the legislature, we can see what changes need to be made to make these programs work,” added Semonelli.

Semonelli said that Education Commissioner Deborah Gist agreed that a successful Massachusetts model was a goal that should be pursued in Rhode Island.

“What came out of a summit meeting in April was the mission to develop a career path program in Rhode Island,” he said. The group looked at opportunities in Newport County – the boating and hospitality industries among them – but it was agreed that the manufacturing component of the community “could use some involvement with education.”

Subsequent meetings were held at CCRI, and a venture in Chicago was examined as a model that works.

University of Rhode Island President David Dooley also supported the concept. “President Dooley thought the idea made a lot of sense,” Semonelli told the council. “What President Dooley envisioned was a single over-arching framework” for manufacturing education, connecting teens to degrees and careers.

“You have a group that is very excited and willing to put the energy into a Newport County program for advanced manufacturing and career paths for high school and middle schools,” said Semonelli.

"Policies would need to be changed. A lot of schools would be need to work together."

“President Dooley said to come back in 90 days with a white paper, spelling out how to make it scalable and replicable across the state. Identify a funding source, the curriculum, the facility and create a model which can be produced,” he continued.

Semonelli said that a possible $150,000 in immediate funding might be available through a source at CCRI and that the school’s Florence Gray Center could possibly be developed into an engineering center for this project.

“We fill a void. Teachers tell us, ‘Please send our kids somewhere. Please send a bus to take them. Please identify careers for them.’ It’s important,” said Semonelli. But he also knows the hoops that potential manufacturers would have to jump through in Rhode Island.

“There are a lot of egos that have to be left at the door,” added Semonelli. “But we have a willing community of people that are participating right now.”

Meeting voluntarily every two weeks, the group plans to meet with President Dooley on Nov. 25 with their white paper plan. In other news:

The council voted 6-0 (Paul Rodrigues did not attend the meeting) to allow the town’s finance department to take money from the CIP audit fund to purchase about $200,000 of new kitchen equipment for both Middletown High School and Gaudet School.

Return to top