HOLLAND—This week, Aug. 10-14, Thermotron partnered with iChallengeUth to provide area middle school students with real-world experience to develop employability, collaboration, and communication skills.

iChallengeUth, a subset of the FuturePrep program through the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District (OAISD), groups seventh and eighth-grade students with two area teachers and places them in an area business to come up with practical solutions to a problem the businesses face. Each participating business provides an employee to be a team “coach” and guide them from problem to solution, providing helpful company insight.

“Area businesses participate in iChallengeUth, each hosting a group of five or six students for a week,” said OASID director, Jason Pasatta. “This is the second year this program has been done with middle school students. Previously it was done with only high school students.”
Thermotron explained its problem of workspace inefficiencies in a section of the manufacturing plant located at 836 Brooks Ave. The students were charged with coming up with a different layout design that would benefit the employees and workflow efficiencies.

“The purpose of this summer program is to train teachers in practical ways of teaching and student learning that benefit students in preparation for what they will need in the workforce,” said Brad Sall, one of the teachers paired with the Thermotron group. “This gives students a practical learning experience by learning through thinking as opposed to memorization.”

The group was first given a tour of the area and then given an in-depth description of the problem and parameters of the project (work stations with utility hookups, for example). The students then interviewed employees who are affected by the workspace layout and what their needs were in a redesigned space. From there, the students worked on different layout configurations to maximize the use of the workspace.
“At the end of the week, each student group presents their problem and solution to a panel, which decides the winner,” said Pasatta. Winners are chosen based on how well they understood the business and their problem, how they communicated the problem and solution to the panel, how creative and practical the solution was, and their presentation skills.

On Thursday, Aug. 13, the students made a presentation on their proposed solution to Thermotron manufacturing managers and employees. After the presentation, students were asked follow-up questions and given feedback.

Thermotron managers and employees were impressed with the solutions the students came up with.

“They followed our guidelines of what could and could not be moved, and came up with a doable, creative solution to our space issue,” said Jennifer Baumann, manufacturing supervisor. “I think their layout may take a half-day to implement and create happier, more productive employees.”

For more information about iChallengeUth, visit oaisd.org.iChallengeUth 1

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