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Accelerating Manufacturing through STEM Initiatives

By Brigit Anthony Vice President North America, Engineering, Cooper Standard

At Cooper Standard, engaging in the community where we work and live is central to our core values. It enables employees to inspire and drive interest in modern manufacturing careers, as well as work to cultivate talent in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields for years to come.

Our STEM Affinity Group is made up of dedicated and well-trained employees, called STEM Accelerators, who volunteer year-round to inspire students in a variety of STEM-focused programs globally. The STEM Affinity Group is an extension of the Cooper Standard Foundation, which helps facilitate community engagement. Children and education are an important piece of the Foundation’s mission.

Science in the DEEP (Digital Educational Enrichment Program)

In February 2016, our STEM Affinity Group joined forces with S.A.Y. Detroit and The Dow Chemical Co. (Midland, MI) to open an interactive science center at the S.A.Y. Detroit Play Center for inner city youth in Michigan.

The basics of STEM are not new for students growing up in the era of rapid technology growth and accessibility; but like most, students lack connection between STEM education and real-world applications. The Science in the DEEP center was designed to take STEM to the next level with hands-on experiments and opportunities for students to engage with Cooper Standard STEM professionals. Through mentorship, demonstrations and programs, the students’ interest in STEM and the automotive industry is put into gear.

Our STEM Accelerators often show Cooper Standard’s “Careers in Manufacturing Tree,” a graphic that helps visualize the many levels of education and positions that make up manufacturing. From product engineering to human resources and everything in between, the tree demonstrates that there are many STEM-related career opportunities in modern manufacturing. The manufacturing workforce, made up of highly trained, well-paid employees who work with state-of-the-art equipment, is in recurrent need of talent to meet the demands of the industry.

FIRST Robotics Programs

In 2016, a group of STEM Accelerators hosted the inaugural FIRST LEGO League and Tech Challenge programs at S.A.Y. Detroit Play Center. The FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) programs are made of teams of up to 10 elementary and middle school students, with two coaches per team. Initially, there were doubts that an after-school program like this would be a success due to the commitments most students already have to school/sports, however, the students of the S.A.Y. Play Center stepped up to the challenge. Three FIRST LEGO League teams and two FIRST Tech Challenge teams of bright and inquisitive students competed in local competitions last year.

Having laid the foundation in 2016, the Accelerators were excited to engage with new and returning students this year for a LEGO league robotics camp that was held in August. The students had great success using creative thinking, problem solving and teamwork to produce a finished product for testing. We look forward to working with the Center’s growing teams during the 2017–2018 season!

Global STEM Acceleration

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At an early age, students in China have the opportunity to experiment with design, production, and innovation.

Our STEM Affinity Group is growing. Within the United States, we have a few locations that are starting to put together their own STEM chapters, including northern Michigan, Kentucky and Ohio. We have also established chapters in China and Brazil, and are now expanding into Mexico.

An example of the work our global STEM partners do is our Accelerators in China who visit schools near their facilities to deliver lessons in STEM and work with children to experiment with design, production and innovation. They bring science to life with bottle rocket launching, circuit and color changing liquid experiments, and demonstrations of how these concepts apply to professions in manufacturing.

North America Manufacturing Day

In October, along with manufacturers across North America, many of our facilities host Manufacturing Day activities to show our communities the value of and spark interest in modern manufacturing. The day included facility tours and presentations on career opportunities in manufacturing. Our facilities gave an overview of the desired skills, education and values needed to work not only in automotive careers, but also in all manufacturing industries. The audience encompassed local elementary, middle and high school students, as well as college/university students at career expos during the month. October was packed with activities and opportunities for our facilities to demonstrate the value of modern manufacturing and development of the manufacturing workforce.

Solving the STEM Crisis

STEM initiatives are not just common to Cooper Standard. Organizations across many different industries are recognizing the employment gap between the positions needed and the students and young professionals ready to fill them. The talent is out there with students eager to learn, but it’s a matter of giving them access to tools, resources and goal setting that will raise the bar. Our STEM Affinity Group is helping generate interest in STEM fields and then provide guidance and advice for how these students can enter these fields. It can be delivered in many different forms, such as a career presentation, one-on-one conversations or experimenting with robotics, product design, chemistry and more.

We’re seeing results. We have students come up after presentations who want to know more, or female students who were hesitant to join clubs and teams because they’re made up of all boys, ask to chat longer with a successful female engineer. It’s interactions like these that let us know what we are doing can really make a difference to those who don’t have the influence or support pushing them to do more.

Cooper Standard is a global supplier for the automotive industry with a strong culture for community improvement and partnership. Our STEM Affinity Group will continue to accelerate modern manufacturing and STEM careers with the support from the company and its dedicated volunteers.

Science in Action Inspiring the Next Generation of Innovators

This year, Cooper Standard held a competition for the students of S.A.Y. Detroit Play Center called the Science in the DEEP Buoyancy Project. The students had the opportunity to work as teams to create a 3D printed boat that could withstand various tests. Each team member was required to take a role as project manager, purchaser, designer or marketer. In the beginning, some students didn’t know what the purpose or responsibility of their role might be. This provided a great opportunity for our STEM Accelerators to share their knowledge of what a career in that role might look like. Whether the STEM Accelerator themselves work in that role, or knew someone who does, the students developed their understanding through that mentorship and tasks throughout the program.

Another great opportunity was for our STEM Accelerators to build off the student’s knowledge in science and mathematics to create specifications for their boat. These specifications were then used to create a 3D-printed rendering of the boats. The boats themselves would go on to be tested by drop and float buoyancy testing, and compared on the team’s competitive cost metrics.

This program was a first for the students and a first for our STEM Accelerators. The groups presented before a panel of judges and when asked “who would buy your boat?”—many groups shyly responded that rich people would buy the boat. Then one student exclaimed “maybe a company would buy it.” You could then almost see the gears in the students’ heads start turning about the opportunities to sell to corporations. Before you know it, we had students talking about ways to reduce the weight to improve cost or making the boat bigger so it would hold more. The experience was really rewarding.

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