FCA US and Ivy Tech celebrate success of first advanced manufacturing work-study program

Left to right, (front row): students Jaleel Pugh, Ryan Sizemore, DeShawn Bayless , and Alex Surber; (back row): FCA US representatives Jim Woolf, Jimmie Gross, and Bob Varsanik, and students John Farley, Clayton Lawson, and David Yoder.

Left to right, (front row): students Jaleel Pugh, Ryan Sizemore, DeShawn Bayless , and Alex Surber; (back row): FCA US representatives Jim Woolf, Jimmie Gross, and Bob Varsanik, and students John Farley, Clayton Lawson, and David Yoder.

Eight students complete 12-week job experience under ITEP program 

KOKOMO, Ind. — Eight young men came up to the podium one by one, confidently sharing presentations on their 12 weeks in the first-ever work-based learning program for high school students at the high-tech FCA US manufacturing facilities in Indiana. Their audience? Nearly 100 people, from top FCA US management to supervisors to instructors to high school and career center counselors to their parents, all gathered in the auditorium of Indiana Transmission Plant I to celebrate their accomplishments.

Sidebar: Ivy Tech’s ITEP serves nearly 500 students in first two years.

Eight young men, soon-to-be high school graduates, have an impressive head start on their futures, courtesy of a unique, federally funded program known as ITEP (Integrated Technology Education Program) through the Youth CareerConnect (YCC) Grant Program that brings together the resources of Ivy Tech, area employers, and area high schools and career centers. These students, and eight additional students who had work-based learning experiences at other north central Indiana companies, including H&R Industrial, Beck’s Hybrid, Owen Corning –Thermafiber, Ford Meter Box, The Dilling Group, and Symmetry Medical –Tecomet, represent the first group to complete the high school portion of ITEP/YCC with significant hands-on work-based experience.

The work-based learning opportunities are the capstone of Ivy Tech’s ITEP, a program that offers career pathways that feature technical certificates in eight industrial technology fields. Supported by a $3.27 million federal Youth CareerConnect grant through the U.S. Departments of Labor and Education, ITEP is designed to prepare students to help fill the many positions opening up in advanced manufacturing in Indiana.

Under the grant, students may participate in ITEP at no cost to them or their families. Grant funding covers the tuition for college-level courses as well as the cost of pursuing the nationally recognized certifications that are part of the program and that employers look for when hiring new employees. The grant, announced in April 2014, will support the program through April 2018. FCA US in Kokomo and Tipton signed on as the major industry partner, covering much of the grant’s match by donating “Engineer in the Classroom” volunteers, and a multi-classroom and lab space at its Tipton Transmission Plant.

Bob Varsanik, general manager of FCA’s Powertrain Transmission, Casting and Components Division in North America, said people development is the key to his company’s success and he has watched with great enthusiasm as the work-study program for potential future employees unfolded. He noted high school students had never been allowed to work in the plants before and it took more than a year to get approval to bring the students in. He characterized the experience with the first eight students – as they spent their 12 weeks trying their hands at everything from Kaizen problem-solving techniques to programming robots to observing team meetings and safety audits to taking a transmission apart to learn how to assure the final product is flawless – as the opportunity of a lifetime.

Dr. James E. Woolf, FCA US Community Engagement & Educational Services specialist in Kokomo, is part of the team that worked to obtain and implement the Youth CareerConnect grant. He shared some statistics on the work-study program:

  • The work-study students spent 3½ hours a day four days a week in the 12-week program at FCA US, providing about 168 hours of supervised hands-on experience for each student.
  • About 50 FCA US employees served as mentors, logging more than 1,260 hours working with students. He noted this was “day-to-day, hour-to-hour, minute-to-minute mentoring” that also benefited the mentors.
  • And, Woolf noted, the best metric in a company proud of its safety record was the zero accidents reported by the students while on the job.

“We’ve got something great established here,” Varsanik told the students, “and we’re going to grow upon it.” He sees growth in the program, with the possibility of doubling the number of students next year – as well as career growth for the first class of eight, with the possibility of paid internships as they move through their college careers.

He encouraged them to always continue learning. “Get your degree. Stay in college,” Varsanik said. “Whether you want to be a plant manager, a pipefitter, an electrician, a doctor, a lawyer, I hope you will look back on this experience as having helped you be more well-rounded.”

Those sharing their experiences at the presentation include recent high school graduates John Farley and Jaleel Pugh from Hamilton Heights; David Yoder from Oak Hill and the Heartland Career Center; DeShawn Bayless from Peru and the Heartland Career Center; Alex Surber from Western; Clayton Lawson from Northwestern; and John Hinds Career Center students Jimmie Gross from Alexandria Monroe and Ryan Sizemore from Elwood Community. Along with their shared interest in advanced manufacturing, their resumes include everything from state level wrestling to varsity academic team to state champion robotics team to 4-H to FFA to a three-time winner of the Garden Tractor Demolition Derby to Eagle Scout.

The students’ varied plans for the future demonstrate “how ITEP opens doors to so many pathways for these kids,” said Ivy Tech’s Jan Bailey, director of the ITEP program. 

All eight said they plan to pursue careers in the engineering and technology worlds – with goals ranging from going into apprenticeships for skilled trades as machine repairmen and millwrights to becoming industrial, mechanical or robotics engineers. Several are bringing the college credits they’ve earned to Ivy Tech, where they can complete their associate degrees with tuition and fees covered by ITEP. Several hope to follow in the footsteps of parents, brothers, uncles, and grandfathers who have worked at FCA US; some plan to go immediately to universities including Indiana State and Trine; others intend to take a completed Ivy Tech associate degree on to places like Purdue Polytechnic and the University of Arizona.

“This work-study program really helped me shape my post-secondary school plans. It showed me that mechanical engineering may be what I want to do for the rest of my life,” said Jaleel Pugh. “It showed me that college is a big help on being higher up in a company than just starting as an hourly wage employee.” After finishing up his associate degree at Ivy Tech in Kokomo, Jaleel hopes to transfer to the engineering program at the University of Arizona.

John Farley appreciated the variety of experiences. “I got to see what a day in the life of an industrial engineer is like,” he said. “I got hands-on experience, learned how to set up spreadsheets for various tasks, and how to apply the math I’ve learned in school to the real world and understand its importance.” John is heading to Indiana State University to study engineering technology.

“Not many high school students get this kind of an opportunity,” Varsanik said. “To get to work for a major company like FCA US as a high school student, to make these contacts, to understand more of the business … It will make your resume shine among everyone else’s. We truly believe you will be successful. We’d like to see the eight of you come back – whether here in Kokomo or in the design center in Michigan or FCA facilities in China or France. The opportunities are amazing.”


About Ivy Tech Kokomo Service Area

Ivy Tech Community College Kokomo Service Area serves Cass, Fulton, Howard, Miami, Pulaski and Tipton counties, including the communities of Kokomo, Logansport, Peru, Rochester, Tipton and Winamac. Ivy Tech Community College is Indiana’s largest public postsecondary institution and the nation’s largest singly accredited statewide community college system, accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Ivy Tech has campuses throughout Indiana and also serves thousands of students annually online. It serves as the state’s engine of workforce development, offering associate degree and short-term certificate programs, and trainings that align to the needs of the community. The College also offers courses and associate degree programs that seamlessly transfer to other colleges and universities in Indiana, as well as out of state, for a more affordable route to a bachelor’s degree. For more information, visit www.ivytech.edu.
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