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Students urged to 'dream it, do it' on Manufacturing Day

Groton — More than 50 middle schoolers had been working on a K'Nex swing ride project for over 10 minutes when Bruce Karasik told them he didn't like the way it was turning out, and they would have to partially start over with a new design.

Paxton Montieth, an eighth-grade student at the Arts Magnet Middle School in New London, looked at a "factory" member who was taking apart the colorful pieces he'd assembled.

"It's great to know that once you build something amazing, this happens," she sighed. But she and her teammates continued working.

It was a switch that Karasik, program budget administrator at the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology, made to show students that changes happen in the real world and to see how they reacted.

The K'Nex Kompetition was one of four 40-minute rotations at Manufacturing Mania on Friday, along with Ice Cream Stick Factory, Straw Skyscrapers and Meet the Exhibitors.

The Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology held the event at Mystic Marriott — on National Manufacturing Day — as part of its "Connecticut. Dream It. Do It." initiative to increase student awareness of manufacturing careers.

More than 200 students participated, coming from the Arts Magnet Middle School in New London, West Side Middle School in Groton, Teachers' Memorial Magnet Middle School in Norwich, Dr. Helen Baldwin Middle School in Canterbury, Wexler-Grant Community School in New Haven and Joseph Melillo Middle School in East Haven.

Scott Jackson, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Labor, welcomed them at the beginning of the day.

Citing the presence of Electric Boat, Pratt & Whitney and Sikorsky in the state, he commented, "We are building the equipment that goes into space and goes into the bottom of the oceans. It's fantastic."

In a video message to students at the beginning of the day, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy said manufacturing isn't what it used to be, that workers aren't sitting in a dark, dingy building pushing the same button over and over.

"You don't need to decide what you're doing with your life right now, but keep an eye on Connecticut manufacturing," he said. "You won't regret it; I promise you that."

At the K'Nex Kompetition, students were assigned to logistics, customer service/quality control, assembly or work cell to build a carnival swing ride.

"It was a challenge," said West Side Middle School eighth-grader Thomas Williams, whose Factory 4 team finished first. "It was cool to work together, and at the end it got really close."

He started his day there and ended at Ice Cream Stick Factory, in which students used sticks, rulers, markers, highlighters, scissors and sanding boards to complete different orders. They then sold their orders, and used their "money" to buy more sticks and thus complete more orders.

For example, a Frendlee's order was four 4-inch sticks, with all eight ends shaped into a triangle and colored black, and with a black smiley face in the center on all eight sides.

The Straw Skyscrapers activity had students competing to build the tallest structure out of different sized straws, mini marshmallows and pipe cleaners.

West Side Middle School eighth-grader Nathan Romanelli said this was his favorite activity of the day, and that the event changed his prior thinking that manufacturing "was just kind of a slow and steady thing."

Another favorite for him was learning about 3-D printing from the exhibitors.

The Connecticut manufacturers represented included Legrand, Acme Wire Products, Sound Manufacturing, InCord and more.

"I just think this is awesome," said Julia Wrighton, a sixth- and seventh-grade science teacher at Arts Magnet. "It's such a wonderful way of integrating art and science, and looking ahead at what jobs are going to be available."

Editor's Note: This version corrects that Paxton Montieth, an eighth-grade student, attends the Arts Magnet Middle School in New London.


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