Bay Area High School Students at LLNL

Bay Area high school students got an up-close look at the many precision tools used at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. (Photo – Courtesy of LLNL)

Twenty-seven students from secondary schools across the East Bay and Central Valley attended Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s first manufacturing workshop for high school students, July 9-11.

During the workshop, the students were introduced to state-of-the-art tools and hardware used by LLNL machinists and engineers.

From talks, tours and interactions with veteran machinists and graduates of the Laboratory’s apprenticeship program, they learned about the modern design-to-manufacturing process and the future of manufacturing, as well as how the machines themselves work.

LLNL manufacturing engineering section superintendent Pete Schoenenberger, who organized and led the workshop, said he was pleased to see the students observe actual machining operations and interact with current machinist apprentices.

“On the tours, they saw some things that they’ve probably never seen before, and that’s exciting,” Schoenenberger said. “I could see the wheels turning in their heads. That’s the whole idea behind this.”

Mike Prokosch, a recent LLNL retiree who started his career as an apprentice, led one of the tours, as well as giving a talk on the importance of teamwork in manufacturing.

He said he didn’t know what he wanted to be when he was in high school and hoped the workshop would raise the students’ awareness of manufacturing technology.

“In hiring for the apprenticeship, we realized that a lot of students or potential apprentices were unaware of the pathway into the manufacturing trades,” he said.

Today, in retirement, Prokosch serves on an advisory committee for local high schools and junior colleges.

“We recognized at the junior college level, where we were focusing, it was already too late, so we decided we needed to kick it down one level to the high schools and help juniors and seniors be more aware of the career pathways and the opportunities.”

He considers Livermore to be fortunate in that both Livermore and Granada high schools still have machine shop classes, which have been discontinued in many communities due to liabilities and cost.

Granada High School shop and machine tool teacher Don Danner encouraged his students to attend the workshop. Five took advantage of the opportunity.

He found that the workshop was valuable, not only for his students, but for himself as well.

To Jesus Gonzalez, a third-year apprentice from Hayward, “It’s great that these young (high school) students are being shown that there are different trades out there in which they could use the skills they have.”

One of many students who received that message was Lauren Graham, a Foothill High junior, who has long wanted to be an engineer and took the workshop to expand her knowledge base.

“I really never thought about how they made parts before… It’s not just robots doing the same thing over and over. There’s more thought that goes into it,” she said.

“It made me understand how people are involved in the process. It really shows you how you can have any career you want… It’s good to see your options.”

Another local participant, Jorja Burbano, a sophomore at Granada High, said she has family members working at LLNL and had often thought about pursuing a career in manufacturing.

She enjoys hands-on work. She was thrilled to visit the shop’s main bay, where she gawked at high-tech machines like the horizontal boring mill, engine lathe and hydropress.

“There is a lot of new technology here, and all the computer programming that goes into everything was mind blowing to see,” she said.

“Everyone seems so passionate about their jobs here and are always experimenting. It doesn’t seem like anything gets old very fast.”

Some students had to make a serious effort just to attend. Berkeley High School students Eliot Wachtel, Noah Dilworth and Erik Lovekin journeyed from Berkeley as a group, making the two-and-a-half hour trip to Livermore via BART, bus and bicycle.

Wachtel, president of Berkeley High’s robotics club, had used machines and lathes before during a summer workshop at Laney College.

“I really want to learn more about machining. I’m constantly looking for ways to learn more about the stuff I’m interested in, and I’m really interested in making stuff and in engineering.”

Dilworth, who recently graduated from Berkeley High, will begin engineering studies at UC-San Diego in the fall. He was interested in the workshop because he wanted to see what kinds of careers exist in manufacturing.

“It’s been cool just to learn about the different jobs and how they are interconnected,” he said.

“I don’t really know exactly what I want to do, but I know I like these machines, I like making things and finding out about how all these things work.”

The workshop concluded on July 11 with a ceremony and certificates for the students. Schoenenberger, the workshop leader, said he was surprised to have 100 percent of the students attend all three days.

“The workshop far exceeded my expectations,” he said.

“The kids interacted well with each other and everyone involved. They were actively engaged in conversations with journeymen machinists as well as current apprentices while touring the lab’s machine shops.

“It took a lot of people to make this event successful and to all of them I am very grateful.”