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SME Education Foundation Celebrates SME PRIME School Success in Saginaw, Looks to Expand

Bruce Morey
By Bruce Morey Senior Technical Editor, SME Media
High school student Tyree’ Alexander shows off his robot programming skills with equipment provided by SMEEF’s PRIME initiative. (All Images provide by SME Photo/Bruce Morey)

An important SME PRIME initiative celebrated its formal launch on Friday, Oct. 15 at an event at the Saginaw Career Complex in Saginaw, Mich.

The SME Education Foundation’s Partnership Response In Manufacturing Education (PRIME) initiative provides schools with a curriculum tailored to give students hands-on training on modern, industry-standard equipment, offering career-readiness opportunities to high school students. It allows them to explore futures in manufacturing, engineering and STEM-related careers aligned with manufacturers' needs.

Speaking at the event, Michigan State Senator Ken Horn stressed that  the COVID-19 pandemic revealed how fragile global supply chains can be. The past year revealed that “manufacturing of every kind is a national security interest to the United States of America.” He also noted that the skilled trades can no longer be thought of as a second-class opportunity for young people starting careers.

“The biggest challenge to manufacturers is talent. It is the primary barrier to our growth,” said Mike Johnston, Vice President of Government Affairs, Michigan Manufacturers Association (MMA), also speaking at the event. The MMA has been a partner in developing Michigan SME PRIME schools. “We need to fundamentally change policy in this state and move away from the long-term policy of four-year degrees. Nothing wrong with four-year degrees. [But we also] need people who can actually make things,” he stated. He went on to note that the recent $6 million education budget appropriation by the State of Michigan announced in July will expand the PRIME initiative to include up to 15 additional schools in Michigan. “Creating a talent pipeline is what manufacturing needs.” The MMA represents traditional and advanced manufacturing enterprises across Michigan.

At the event were Dr. Shelley Wooley, Director Education Programs, SME; Robert Willig, Executive Director and CEO, SME; Michigan State Senator Ken Horn; Michigan State Representative Amos O’Neal; and Rob Luce, SME Vice President for SME Education Foundation.

SME PRIME is building on success. Key metrics reviewed from schools responding to a recent study indicate that the SME PRIME schools initiative has resulted in 89 percent of students directly entering the manufacturing workforce, training in an apprenticeship position or pursuing post-secondary education in engineering or manufacturing disciplines.

Dr. Shelley Wooley next to a new Stratasys 3D printer provided by PRIME. The printer is capable of up to 10 simultaneous prints.

Since 2011, SME PRIME schools have been initiated in 63 communities across 22 states, creating opportunities for thousands of students, with 17 SME PRIME schools located in Michigan. Following up on this established base, in July 2021 the state of Michigan awarded the SME Education Foundation $6 million as part of the approved School Aid Fund Budget.

SME PRIME resources at the Saginaw Career Complex will serve participating schools within the Saginaw intermediate school district (ISD.) An additional six institutions provide resources to students in their respective communities at Swan Valley High School, Birch Run High School, Hemlock High School, Freeland High School, Heritage High School and Merrill High School.

Other speakers at the launch event included James Jackson, the Regional Director for the Office of U.S. Senator Gary Peters (Speaking for Senator Peters), Robert Willig, SME Executive Director and CEO, Rob Luce, SME Vice President for SME Education Foundation, Mike Johnston, Vice President of Government Affairs, Michigan Manufacturers Association, as well as Jenny Geno, Executive Director of Career and Technical Education, Saginaw Intermediate School District. In attendance was Michigan State Representative Amos O’Neal.

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