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Student Interns Earn Respect of Aviation Industry

When Alpha Aviation Components Inc. took on Monroe High School students as interns a certain reluctance needed to be overcome. One production manager doubted having the time to teach students about the company’s high-precision machining work, what with needing to get product out the door. The attitude of the company’s management has since changed. Operations manager Ron Bivins sees a direct bottom-line benefit having students in Monroe’s engineering and design program spend a couple days a week at the company. For one, the students don’t have as much of a learning curve as other new hires and that cuts down on the amount of discarded parts. Also, while they have the skills of more highly-paid employees, their lack of work experience puts them at a lower pay scale. “The more we make with less overhead, the more everyone else makes,” Bivins said. The intern program was made available to Alpha Aviation and other manufacturers through the San Fernando Valley Aviation-Aerospace Collaborative, a collection of businesses, schools, community groups and public officials that marked its first year at the end of April. Entering its second year, the collaborative will be losing Laurie Golden, its lead facilitator, and the members plan to build on its success and do more to further their mission of preparing high school students for the workplace and bring relevance to their classroom learning. New areas of emphasis include direct involvement with the curriculum, mentoring programs, and video conferencing in a joint program with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Stanford University. From less than a handful of members in April 2007, the collaborative now numbers more than 40 and includes big names like Northrop Grumman and Pratt & Whiteny/Rocketdyne. The intern program is only part of what the collaborative accomplished. It also arranged for company tours; brought business people to speak to students in the classroom; and laid the groundwork for the ambitious project of a library and museum on women in aviation to be housed in an aircraft on wheels. The group is an informal, loose collection. There are no dues; the members give what they can in terms of time and opening their doors to the students. “Money cannot buy that,” Golden said. At the end of the month Golden steps aside as the lead cheerleader for the collaborative. She facilitates the monthly meetings and recruits new members. With the expiration of a state grant, Golden considers now the best time to leave and devote more time to her public relations firm. An Overall Positive Experience Golden’s involvement dates to when the late Barbara Cesar, owner of Syncro Aviation, conceived the collaborative after staging a successful career day for students at the Van Nuys Airport. At about the same time, then-Monroe Principal Lynda Schwarz contacted Kenn Phillips, of the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley, to get area businesses involved with the schools’ engineering and design program. Combining the contacts Cesar had in the aviation industry with the request made to Phillips paired the collaborative with Monroe, the result of which has been an overall positive experience for both companies and students. For those companies that got involved at the start there had not been much of an expectation, apart from identifying jobs students could pursue in aviation and aerospace, Phillips said. That changed once the business folks had more contact with the students. “They have emotional ties to the child,” said Phillips, director of Education and Workforce Investment for the Alliance. Getting more companies on board became a prime responsibility for Golden. She in turn had to show potential members that the collaborative had staying power, and show students that the companies would follow through from their end. Having a broad membership base helped and involvement by the state’s Employment Development Department and Van Nuys Airport brought credibility. Alpha Aviation (formerly named Gorko Industries) was an original member of the collaborative. Bivins has visited students at Monroe, his alma mater, and hired a former student intern for a full-time position. As a manager he hires new employees and sees first hand the difficulty in finding qualified applicants, Bivins said. The advantage of having interns is they are exposed to the entire manufacturing process and learn to feel good about going to a job, Bivins said. “We get better workers out of it,” Bivins said. Terry Hampton, of aerospace design firm Hampton Scott Group in Encino, learned about the collaborative in January after reading a newspaper profile of Monroe instructor Lewis Chappelear, the California Teacher of the Year for 2008. A call to Chappelear led Hampton to join the collaborative and taking on four student interns. Two only needed a day to get through a training manual on software the firm uses to design standard parts for aerospace clients. “A lot of what we do is simple enough in nature that the high school students will be able to assist with,” Hampton said.

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