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Metropolitan Community College received a $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a distance-learning program that will train rural high school students in precision machining, a high-demand career field, according to a college press release.

MCC currently offers certificates and an associate degree in computer-integrated machining and manufacturing.

The grant-funded program aims to serve high school students in the college’s service area who would find a daily commute to an MCC campus difficult.

Instead, their CIMM classes would be connected through two-way audio and video to instructors at MCC. Participating high schools would provide equipment as well as personnel to ensure student safety.

The first school to participate is expected to be Raymore-Peculiar High School on the south side of the Kansas City metropolitan area, starting this fall. The distance program would expand in Years 2 and 3 to an additional three to five sites. The goal is to offer the program as far east as Lexington and as far north as St. Joseph.

“Most of America’s highly skilled tool and die makers are over the age of 55, and many will soon leave the workforce,” said David Grady, CIMM program coordinator at MCC. “We need more students to enter the field.”

The Mid-America Regional Council projects a need for 34,000 production workers in greater Kansas City over the next five years.

“Training the next generation of skilled workers is a big part of what we do at Metropolitan Community College,” said MCC Chancellor Kimberly Beatty. “We have a track record of success in workforce programs like machining and manufacturing. Our business partners provide paid internships to CIMM students, and those internships usually lead to good-paying permanent jobs with benefits. Now we want to expand these opportunities to students who by virtue of geography might not be able to take advantage of an MCC education.”

Grady said graduates of CIMM programs at MCC land positions in mold making, die making, tool making and computer numeric control machining. On the job “they make all sorts of things, from aerospace parts for Boeing and Airbus to medical parts to automotive and other types of molds.”

CIMM students learn to operate manual lathes, manual mills and CNC equipment to manufacture precision metal parts. High school seniors in this new program would typically complete an MCC mill certificate, which may lead to employment after graduation. Students can later undertake additional training in person at MCC to earn an Associate’s in Applied Science degree.

“Anybody can make internet videos, but it takes hands-on training to make good machinists,” Grady said. The high school students will work in machine labs at their schools under the direction of MCC faculty, who will do all lesson planning and grading. The schools will provide a teacher or lab technician to assist students and keep them safe.

The live video instruction will be more advanced than a typical Zoom meeting, states a release.

“The lab techs will be able to place cameras and zoom in as needed so the faculty can see exactly what is being machined,” Grady said.

There’s also a math component of this new program. MCC math instructor Jennifer Butler will make training videos to teach math concepts that students will use day-to-day on the job, states the release.

The project is funded by the National Science Foundation’s Advanced Technological Education program, which focuses on the education of technicians for high-tech fields that drive the nation’s economy.