South Fayette students get real-life work experience through program

Published May 21, 2013 at 8:10 pm (Updated May 21, 2013 at 8:10 pm)

Project-based learning is not something new to the South Fayette School District. In 2008, South Fayette High School began a partnership with cookware manufacturer, Canonsburg-based All-Clad, in which students were given problems to solve by the company. The project-based learning program has since grown, and interested students have had the opportunity to work with Siemens, UPMC and Lanxess, in addition to All-Clad.

Bill Leger, a 2009 South Fayette graduate, was in that first group of students who participated in the 2008 All-Clad project. A 2013 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown’s School of Engineering, Leger returned to South Fayette High School recently to talk to a group of about 300 students about how project-based learning helped him in his college career.

Leger was also joined by fellow Pitt-Johnstown graduates Brad Pastucha and Mike Violi, who helped him present the college capstone engineering project the group did with All-Clad.

Also on hand at the presentation were Dewayne Rideout, vice president of Human Resources at All-Clad, and Scott Dietz, manager of Workforce Initiatives with Catalyst Connection.

South Fayette High School Assistant Principal and Superintendent Dr. Bille Rondinelli introduced Leger and the other speakers prior to the program.

“We find great value in this,” Skrbin said of project-based learning. He said it provides students an opportunity for hands-on “real world applications.”

“All-Clad was the very first company that took a chance on students,” Rondinelli said. She said careers in technology are “the careers of the future.” She added, “For the students that have done this, it has made all the difference.”

Leger said the group of students he was involved with in the first project in 2008 was made up of about eight people. Leger’s two brothers, 2012 South Fayette graduate Daniel and current senior Matthew, also completed project-based learning at South Fayette.

“It helped me decide for sure that I wanted to become an engineer,” Leger said of working with All-Clad during his time at South Fayette. He added that “probably the most important thing” about the project was the “real world contacts” he gained, which led him to being able to work with All-Clad for his senior project at Pitt-Johnstown.

Ledger then went on to explain about his senior project, which he worked on with Pastucha and Violi.

“The project given was to work on a pan-forming process for a new outdoor pan,” Leger said. He said they had to figure out a way to take the laser-cut pan and get it ready for the riveting process. They also had to work within All-Clad’s set budget of $240,000, or $24 per pan, and also make sure that it took no more than 20 minutes to make one pan.

First, Leger said they had to select a general method of how to manufacture the pan using either manpower, a machine or a robotic machine. The group chose the regular machine.

Pastucha then explained that it took seven major redesigns and numerous minor concept developments to get to basic design for a two-stage machine that could be operated by a single person.

The final design for the machine was a two-stage machine standing about four feet tall that could be operated by a single operator. The group said the machine they designed could complete the pan bending process in about two seconds. Pastucha added that the whole system would run using hydraulic fluid.

Violi explained that at a projected sales price of $80 per pan and a minimum rate of 100,000 pans per year, the project would generate $800,000 per year for the company.

“By far the best thing I did at South Fayette was working with All-Clad,” Leger said.

“There are great opportunities in this sector,” Rideout said. “All-Clad will continue to work with your teachers and continue to work with South Fayette,” he said.

After the presentation, Bill Groll, vice president of Research at All-Clad, said he is “amazed by the caliber of projects” that students from South Fayette have done. “At the end of the 10 to 12 weeks [of the program] they really believe in what they are doing,” Groll said. “It teaches interactive and interrogative decision making.”

Since its start in 2008, the program has grown so much that South Fayette instructional technology teacher and adviser to the group Brian Garlick said several groups have had to be formed to accommodate all of the interested students. It is open to all grades at South Fayette High School.

Garlick said after completing the program, his students continue to come back to him and to tell him they like doing something in which they can apply the skills they’ve learned. He added it allows students to “apply skills they’ve learned to realistic challenges.” Garlick said he’s rewarded by the program when he sees the students benefitting and maturing from it, and “the pride they get out of knowing the material.”

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