The success of Carrollton High School’s STEM program and the ongoing commitment of Southwire to support educational initiatives in the community led to an exclusive partnership seven years ago that has produced, to date, 117 aspiring engineers who experienced the rare opportunity to work on real-world projects in a corporate setting before they even completed high school.
CHS seniors selected for the program are placed in a highly competitive and challenging work environment as real contributors to the company’s bottom line. Under the direct guidance of Southwire engineers, student teams are assigned to work on specific problems in the company’s manufacturing, marketing and information technology operations and charged with coming up with viable solutions the company can use to increase productivity, efficiency, and profitability.
“The Southwire Engineering Academy is a perfect example of merging theory into practice,” said Dr. Mark Albertus, superintendent of Carrollton City Schools and who also served as principal of CHS when the partnership was formed in 2011. “Our students are using the high-level math and science they were taught academically and applying the concepts, along with using their engineering training through STEM, to solve real-world problems at Southwire. They see the relevance of what they’ve learned.”
The academy’s launch started with 20 students working on four teams the 2011-2012 school year. Popularly known by its acronym, SWEA has steadily grown to now involving 28 students on seven teams, bringing the total number of students to the program to 145. The projects assigned to the academy students support real needs, ranging from figuring out ways to reduce waste on manufacturing lines to creating value-added applications for smart-phones that benefit Southwire customers.
“SWEA is an awesome program with many benefits for students and Southwire,” said Mike Schmittou, the Southwire engineering lead who supervised the students for the first six years of the program. “While the students get real engineering projects to work on the program is about much more than the projects. The students get a chance to see what it is like to work as a real engineer in a company like Southwire. They get exposure to manufacturing and the business world. They network and interact with Southwire engineers, leadership, operations, customers and vendors. All of this provides them with a perspective that helps them decide what career path they want to pursue at the next level.”
Southwire Training Specialist Theresa Fisher now manages the program, working closely with Southwire engineers who interact directly with the seven SWEA teams. Fisher has extensive experience as a human resources manager and developed a work-based learning program for her previous employer, making her the ideal candidate to take the SWEA program forward.
“The mentoring component of the program is key,” said Fisher. “The students not only get the real-world experience as an intern, but have the opportunity to work alongside professional engineers who take their charge as a role model very seriously.”
Fisher said the soft skills students develop are just as important as learning about what it takes to be an engineer.
“They learn about professionalism in the workplace,” she said. “They hone their communication skills, learn to work as a team, and experience the satisfaction of doing a job well. It is rewarding for me personally to see them grow in this area and also in their discovery of what they want to do for a lifelong career.”
Following a flexible schedule that complements the program’s real-work focus, students spend every other day in the internship for two blocks of class, earning a full academic credit on their transcript. The engineering interns then present their project findings at a culminating showcase at the end of the school year.
“The Southwire engineering internship, for me, is an amazing opportunity that allows me to challenge myself and grow, said senior Kamryn Poss. “They give us real-time problems that are happening in the plant and tell us to figure out a solution that could be implemented to help the company – not many high schools students have that opportunity. SWEA also gives me experience in the field and lets me explore a career topic that I’m interested in, which has been super helpful as I consider my options.”
Senior Michael Morgan had a strong interest in engineering before his involvement in SWEA. He was accepted into Georgia’s renowned Governor’s Honors Program this past summer to study the discipline, priming him for an internship at Southwire.
“My group works in the corporate building and we are designing racking systems for wires that are run through the ground,” said Michael. “The environment I work in feels much more professional than any I have worked in before and it gives me insight to a job that I may obtain in the future. I believe the work that I do is actually important and could potentially benefit the company and employees of Southwire, and that motivates me to perform to the best of my ability.”
Once completing high school, SWEA graduates have continued their education at 35 different colleges and universities, including engineering powerhouses MIT, Stanford, Georgia Tech and Auburn. Other prestigious schools include Vanderbilt, Virginia, Yale, Georgetown, Georgia and Brigham Young. Still, others are serving our country in the Army, Navy and Air Force, applying their training in specialized military operations.
Corporately, Southwire leadership focuses on three objectives for SWEA: Produce more students interested in studying engineering; support student and community success; and offer highly-motivated students opportunities to demonstrate their capabilities, develop an understanding of corporate engineering, work as a team, and meet project deadlines. An added benefit is the hope that some of the interns will come back to work for the wire and cable manufacturing leader after they complete their post-secondary education, following in the footsteps of first-year cohort intern and Auburn graduate Bess Glanton, who returned to the company as an industrial engineer.
“We’re looking to inspire and build up the workforce of tomorrow,“ said Rich Stinson, Southwire’s president and CEO. “This program strengthens our relationship with the local educators and students who excel in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and these students have a great chance to experience Southwire and the careers we may be able to offer them in the future.”