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Photo Essay

Manufacturing education in the desert

Tucson high school offers college credits in machining and engineering
  • DETAILS IN DESIGNS—Desert View High School in Arizona is one of the few schools that provides iSTEM Academy programs, including precision machining. Their offerings focus on recruiting female students for available career opportunities at local companies. (Maria Cota)
  • DETAILS IN DESIGNS—A K12 student programs a machine to create specific cuts and designs into woods, metals or plastics. (Maria Cota)
  • DETAILS IN DESIGNS—Precision machining education, taught by Cesar Gutierrez, includes demonstrations of proper grinding techniques. (Maria Cota)
  • DETAILS IN DESIGNS—A K12 student inspects a part from a local aircraft part manufacturer. (Maria Cota)

With nearby manufacturing plants struggling to find skilled workers, Desert View High School in Tucson, Arizona, launched a precision manufacturing program in 2012. 

The Academy of Aerospace iSTEM and Digital Technology at the high school gives students hands-on training in software and equipment used in high-precision machining and engineering. Students can earn up to 13 college credit hours, emphasizing industry credentialing qualifications for better future job placement, including the National Institute for Metalworking Skills’ Machining Level I certifications. 

Along with precision manufacturing, the academy offers five other programs, including aviation and military science, engineering sciences, and mechanical drafting and design.

The area is bursting with aeronautical engineering and machine parts firms, such as B/E Aerospace, Raytheon and Abrams Airborne Manufacturing Inc., says Kathy Prather, director of career and technical education for Sunnyside USD, Desert View’s district. And Tucson will be home to Spaceport Tucson, which focuses on space technology and high-altitude passenger balloons. 

“We can’t produce enough students to fill those jobs,” Prather says. “We have a 100 percent placement rate for our students who continue on to community college to finish their associate degrees.”

Students in the precision and mechanical drafting track learn about engineering and precision machining studies. Students learn how to design and implement a machining job process plan by interpreting blueprint drawings, understanding manufacturing mathematical concepts and producing products using equipment from simple hand tools to hydraulic presses to specialized milling machines.

And students have worked in Desert View High School’s manufacturing labs after school hours to raise several thousand dollars for extracurricular trips to competitions and other events. They have produced more than 6,000 passenger jet oil-assembly parts for Hi-Tech Machining & Engineering, a local company that manufactures aircraft components.