The 2019-2020 school year marks the official launch of Michigan City High School’s Compressed Air Academy (CAA). The two year program currently serves 45 students and will prepare them for entry-level positions within the compressor/vacuum industry upon graduation. Students will gain 5 Manufacturing Skill Standards Council (MSSC) certifications and 1 National Center for Construction Education and Resources (NCCER) certification, including a Certified Production Technician (CPT) while also earning up to 6 dual credits as per a partnership with Ivy Tech.
In late 2017 Clarence Hulse, Executive Director of EDCMC, approached Dr. Barbara Eason-Watkins, Superintendent of Michigan City Area Schools, and informed her of the urgent need to grow a workforce for the air compressor/vacuum industry. Michigan City ranks first in Indiana, and eleventh nationally, in those industries and is rising exponentially.
“This partnership is more than just a donation of equipment— it’s a deeper relationship that involves companies engaging with and mentoring our students,” Eason-Watkins said. “While we are celebrating the formal opening of the Compressed Air Academy program, it’s important to note that this is a roadmap that shows us all what is possible through the power of collaboration.”
The CAA features a flex lab to be used for compressed air and vacuum projects, a construction classroom, and a classroom dedicated to computer integrated manufacturing, engineering, and advanced placement computer science. Jeff Rochowiak, a CAA construction, civil engineering and architecture teacher at MCHS was excited to see all of the work his students’ renovation efforts come to fruition.
“It’s about getting that hands-on feeling so they get those ‘ah ha’ moments,” Rochowiak said. “This gives students so many opportunities, not just in the compressed air and vacuum industry but also in industrial maintenance, machining, components for suppliers, and manufacturing. The list goes on and on.”
Students graduating from the program who wish to continue with Ivy Tech, or other technological schools, could pursue pathways and certifications in Mechatronics, Automation and Robotics, Industrial Electronics or Industrial Mechanics, and/or an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree. One student, senior Aaliyah Briggs, plans to continue her learning in the CAA program at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago for a degree in Civil Engineering.
“I love working with machines and I definitely think that all engineers are problem solvers,” Briggs said. “We may be in different types of fields but in this class we have to be problem solvers in all of them.”
Clarence Hulse has been making a huge impact on Michigan City with the EDCMC and the opening of the CAA is only the latest part. In a 2016 study done by Purdue Northwest, one thing that was common among local manufacturers and suppliers was that they wanted to see this industry grow and wanted support in the form of labor. So Hulse took action.
“This industry right now supports over 2,000 jobs in La Porte County, so why not make things grow,” Hulse said. “There is a fantastic journey ahead for us. I foresee future technicians being trained right here in Michigan City High School and to me this is the start of something that is going to create a change in La Porte County.”
Michigan City Mayor Ron Meer has also been playing an integral role in putting Michigan City on the map. He is excited to see this collaboration spread among more companies and see students coming out of the CAA program become ambassadors for their city.
“I’m very proud of all the collaboration that has been occuring in the city of Michigan City. It’s very important to see the private sector, the school system, and the city government all working together,” Meer said. “We talked about how we’re number eleven in the nation— I’d like us to be number one in the nation someday.”