Promising futures starting at P-Tech

OBSERVER Photo Sara Rosario, a second-year P-Tech student, stands near her welding work station.

Sophomore Sara Rosario cannot wait to go to work. As one of almost 100 students attending the newly renovated P-Tech STEM College and Career Academy in Dunkirk, she is getting hands-on training and visiting a number of area businesses.

Sara’s taking courses to become a welder. “I know there are going to be a lot of jobs open,” said the Dunkirk resident. “I know this is going to help me in the future.”

Community members, elected officials and area schools administrators were on hand throughout Wednesday to celebrate a concept that was put forward in January 2015. It involved having an educational program that worked with the county Chamber of Commerce and the business community to prepare students for jobs that exist in our area.

Chautauqua County Executive George Borrello has seen the problem first hand after only two months in office during his visits to existing businesses. Despite the pleas from the populace for jobs to come to our region, there are already many manufacturing companies here struggling to fill open positions that pay anywhere from $45,000 to $80,000 annually.

Sara, who provided a tour of the highly energized P-Tech building, is like many of the other students who are participating in the program. They’re excited about their accomplishments — and thrilled to be in a building dedicated to their futures.

David Gee works at his computer automated design station on Wednesday.

Besides receiving an education and career path, Sara also has visited some of the major manufacturers in our region. Her last visit was a “girls only” tour to Cummins in the south county. “It was awesome,” she said. “I’ve never seen a factory so nicely taken care of. … It was so gorgeous. I was like, ‘Man I would love to work here.”’

For students, P-Tech is a six-year commitment. Upon completion, students receive a high school diploma as well as an associate’s degree. The program offers classes in history, health, English, math, gym and science. It also includes the component for mechanical technology, welding or computer automated design, better known as CAD.

On the afternoon of the open house, sophomore David Gee was preparing for STEM Wars in Jamestown. The event at Jamestown Community College this coming Wednesday showcases innovative student projects in a competition that also provides an outlet for the teens to meet with area businesses and manufacturers.

Gee’s effort was crafting a guitar through the CAD software. “The plan is simply to make a body and chassis for it that I can mount all the (guitar) hardware to it,” said the Dunkirk teen, before strumming an upbeat tune on the guitar he was using as his model.

CAD Instructor Matt Edwards speaks with pride about the work of his students and notes that every manufacturer in Chautauqua and Erie counties relies on this skill for their business. “The Baby Boomers are all about the retirement age in the manufacturing industry,” he said. “These students here are going to be filling that void and it’s going to be quite a big void.”

In this 1964 yearbook photo from the Tradesman, Dunkirk students repair a vehicle.

In a way, P-Tech is a step forward — and a step back. Dunkirk schools once spearheaded a similar effort in getting students ready for their career path. Its industrial school then had a yearbook referred to as the Tradesman, which highlighted machine and wood shops as well as automotive repair courses that were offered in the 1960s.

That’s quite comparable to what’s happening today at the renovated Benton and Nevins streets facility. It is not just about having book smarts, it is also a training ground for future endeavors.

“I’m proud to be in this program,” Sara said more than once during the 30-minute tour. Our community — and future employers — should be just as pleased. P-Tech is an exceptional collaboration by businesses and educators — and it just might help keep more of our younger generation here at home for years to come.

John D’Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 401.

COMMENTS