This year’s 2019 Small Manufacturers Association (SMA) Student of the Year was Krystal Santiago, a past participant in the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology’s (CCAT) Young Manufacturers Academy (YMA) program. This marks the second year in a row that the SMA Student of the Year award winner was a YMA graduate, as the 2018 Student of the Year Patrick Noujaim also began his manufacturing career journey as a middle school student attending a YMA Summer Academy. Both Krystal and Patrick are graduates of Tom Kenyon’s Precision Manufacturing program at W.F. Kaynor Technical High School in Waterbury, CT.
YMA is offered to rising 7th through 9th graders and is an innovative manufacturing-themed, two-week summer program that provides a first-hand introduction to the high-tech world of manufacturing. Led by CCAT, YMA gives students an opportunity to participate in engaging, hands-on workshops that develop an awareness of future career possibilities in manufacturing fields. The YMA Summer Academy is a free, first-come/first-served program made possible by the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development’s Manufacturing Innovation Fund.
The program has hosted more than 1000 students at 60 academies around the state since its inception. YMA fosters a positive image of the manufacturing workplace through experiential learning and promotes achievement in STEM a through a variety of manufacturing-themed activities and visits to local manufacturing facilities where students have a first-hand opportunity to interact with manufacturers.
Sue Palisano, CCAT’s director of education and workforce development, started the academy more than a decade ago. YMA targets the middle grades because students in this age group are underserved by career awareness programs, she said. “What we envisioned was an opportunity to introduce young people early in the pipeline to future careers in manufacturing.” Palisano said many students and their families have misconceptions about today’s manufacturing workplace that are rooted in past perceptions of manufacturing as dirty, dark, and dangerous. Once they are introduced to modern, high-tech manufacturing, they are surprised, she said. And like the recent SMA Students of the Year, many students who get their first exposure to manufacturing by attending a YMA program in middle school go on to pursue an educational and career pathway in a manufacturing field.
YMA has been endorsed by the National Association of Manufacturers and is recognized by the Manufacturing Institute as a best practice for replication throughout the national network. CCAT is the state license holder for the Institute’s Dream It. Do It. initiative, a national campaign that promotes manufacturing career awareness.