CAP program at VUJC doubles in size

Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Carmen Garcia, 18, of Jasper, a first-year student in the Career Advancement Partnership program, tests tool paths at Kimball Electronics in Jasper on Monday. The CAP program, through Vincennes University Jasper Campus, provides students with a paid internship while they work toward their associate degree full-time. "It's a great experience," Garcia said. "Most people don't get this kind of hands-on experience until later in college."

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

JASPER — Growing up, Carmen Garcia, 18, always wanted to know how objects were made.

Thousands of times asking that question led her first to the Commodore Manufacturing work-based learning program at Perry Central Junior-Senior High School, and now to the Career Advancement Partnership program at Vincennes University Jasper Campus. Ultimately, Garcia plans to work in manufacturing as soon as she graduates from VUJC with her associate degree.

Garcia isn’t alone in her dream. This semester, 28 students are enrolled in the CAP program, more than double last year’s enrollment. Most of the students are in their first year of the two-year program, which enhances VUJC’s technical maintenance associate degree program by providing full-time CAP enrollees with paid internships at local companies. VUJC now partners with Indiana Furniture, Jasper Engines and Transmissions, Kimball Electronics, Kimball International, MasterBrand Cabinets and Farbest Foods. Other companies house internships but are not official partners in the program.

For Garcia, participating in the CAP program means spending three days a week in class and two days a week at her internship at Kimball Electronics, where she’s working in the maintenance department and in the machine shop. So far, she said, the machine shop has been her favorite post. There she played a role in drawing blueprints and manufacturing the parts that were sent to the production floor.

“It’s nice to know that I had a part in making that product,” Garcia said.

Garcia isn’t the only CAP intern at Kimball Electronics. Currently five interns report to Kimball Electronics during the week, and Technical and Maintenance Manager Johnathun Harris said the company is thrilled to have them. As students, Harris said, the interns are a blank slate that Kimball Electronics employees can easily train, and they ask a lot of questions. Those questions then allow full-time employees to be critical of the company’s processes and find ways to improve.

“They bring a new set of eyes,” Harris said of the interns.

The interns also serve as a pool of potential employees for the company. Harris said Kimball Electronics has been part of the CAP program since its founding in 2014 and, to his knowledge, the company has hired two past interns.

According to Jacob Berg, director of the Center for Technology, Innovation and Manufacturing at VUJC, that’s the ultimate goal of the program. The university and companies worked together to design the program to teach students the skills local companies need and to get the students in those companies before they graduate. “I think it gives [students] a big advantage,” Berg said.

Berg took over as the CTIM director in January, and was excited to see the CAP program’s growth this fall. He attributed the large jump in attendance to the program’s current leadership team and to Hub 19, a new collaboration between local industry and the four Dubois County school corporations made possible through a Regional Opportunity Initiatives grant geared toward creating a local employment pipeline connecting local high schools to local industries.

Through Hub 19 this year, VUJC launched the Automation and Robotics Academy, which is a work-learn program for high school juniors and seniors. Although not directly related to CAP, students in the academy earn credits they can transfer to the CAP program should they choose to attend VUJC. The CAP program also provides a stackable credential. The associate degree in technical maintenance that CAP graduates earn can pave the way for a bachelor’s degree in technology, engineering or business.

For now, Garcia doesn’t plan to pursue a bachelor’s degree after she graduates from the CAP program in two years. Instead, she’s hoping to immediately turn her associate degree into a job with Kimball Electronics. She’s optimistic about her chances.

“This program is a great opportunity to get my foot in the door,” she said.

As for any high school students considering a career in manufacturing, Garcia suggested they get as much experience as they can before graduation.

“It is a tough career to get into,” she said. “It’s physically demanding and can seem repetitive sometimes. Get all the experience you can so you know it’s what you want to do.”

Thanks to the Commodore Manufacturing program, Garcia was able to gain experience and graduate high school knowing she was pursuing the right path for her. Now, she said, she loves her studies and her internship with Kimball Electronics.




More on DuboisCountyHerald.com