Hands-On Education
South Engineering Academy students partner with Metal Era

By Ashley Haynes

Dec. 7, 2018

 Waukesha South High School Engineering Preparatory Academy senior Claire Lewis examines a piece of equipment on Metal Era’s shop floor Thursday morning.
Ashley Haynes/Freeman Staff

WAUKESHA — While most students were just finishing up with their first class of the day Thursday morning, a trio of Waukesha South High School Engineering Preparatory Academy students was at Metal Era, a local manufacturer that specializes in roof solutions. As part of the Waukesha School District’s “Manufacturing, Automotive, Design, Engineering” program, the group will be working in partnership with Metal Era to create their own version of an airflow miter. This includes making a jig, a counterbalance system and gantry.

Thursday morning marked the first time the project was unveiled to them and they got to take a tour of the shop floor, see how real manufacturing tools work and get a look at an already completed part.

“We have a skills gap here, and how do you fix that? You get into the high schools and get them excited about manufacturing. There’s still a stigma about this,” said Metal Era CEO/President Tony Mallinger.

The part the students will have to create allows air to come in and out of a roof.

It helps prevent ice damming, or ice build-up on the eaves of sloped roofs, and shingle degradation. While students can conceptualize how to build an airflow miter in the classroom, actually being on the shop floor provides an invaluable opportunity.

“They’re getting an experience that they can’t get in school. This is the real thing,” said South Engineering Preparatory tech ed teacher Andy Weber. He says having such a clean, well-lit working environment is helping to make trade careers more welcoming to future workers, including young women. At Metal Era, the number of women went from zero to three in the last year and South student Claire Lewis shows that there is interest among female learners.

 From left: Nolan Karklus, Claire Lewis and Ben Premeau, seniors at South High School’s Engineering Preparatory Academy, take a look at the project they’ll have to recreate in partnership with local manufacturer Metal Era. Through the school district’s MADE program, local businesses expose students to trade careers.
Ashley Haynes/Freeman Staff

Piquing interest early on

For Lewis, her interest in building things started in eighth grade at Les Paul Middle School. She says her teacher helped her realize her natural talent for putting things together during a class project that involved students building a model airplane.

“When I found out there was an engineering academy that same year, I decided ‘why not?’ It’s been really fun,” said Lewis.

Senior Ben Premeau says his natural strengths in math and science made a good match for a career in a more technical field.

“I was interested in engineering because it enables skyscrapers and all sorts of crazy stuff that couldn’t normally be done,” said Premeau.

After seeing the airflow miter in person, he sketched out a concept for how he could recreate it — a difficult task since he says ideas and reality don’t always mesh.

As for South student Nolan Karklus, technical careers have been a part of his entire life. His father is a maintenance mechanic and there are plenty of tools around his home.

“My dad likes to fix his own stuff and I’ve always been interested in that,” said Karklus.

Over the next couple of weeks, the three South students will take charge when it comes to the project. They will be working with Metal Era directly to decide when they’d like to stop by to work on their airflow miter.

By the end of the semester, they’ll have their finished product and gain a hands-on experience that the Waukesha School District emphasizes.

“We want to provide as many academic and skill-based opportunities as possible for our students,” said Superintendent Todd Gray. “To that end, we work closely with our industry partners in our Waukesha MADE committee to identify the needs of our industries so we can broaden and deepen our skills-based curriculum.”