Mahoning County Career and Technology Center
The Los Angles studio shoot was an interesting and fun experience. I had never filmed a segment for TV and as you might expect, I was filled with both excitement and apprehension at the same time. I was in town to shoot a segment on the impact of young worker safety awareness training in reducing the injury and fatality rates among workers aged 16 to 24 years old. The video segment was to air on World Wide Business with kathy ireland® on the Fox Business and Bloomberg News cable channels. The filming was finished in a little over an hour and I was fascinated by the process. The studio crew did a great job at making me feel at ease and Kathy was a very gracious and professional host. As part of the segment, my team and I wanted to include film from a CTE High School to illustrate how teachers were incorporating safety awareness into their classroom curriculums. We looked at schools in several states and decided to go with Mahoning County Career Center in Ohio based on the breadth of programs they offered and their advocacy of safety with their students.
The drive from our hotel took a little over an hour through the Ohio countryside. It was fall and the trees were beginning to turn colors. I enjoy rural America. I love the small towns and the farms and ranches that dot the landscape. We stopped at a little country store to grab some bottled water and the place reminded me of my father’s home town of Monroe City, Indiana. The town where we stopped was a small community with just a few buildings on what could be called the main street. I laughed to myself; here was a place where a traffic jam consisted of two cars at the stop sign. The store clerk was pleasant and after commenting on the wonderful weather, I grabbed the bottled water and got back into our car. A few more miles up country roads, we turned into the parking lot of the Mahoning County Career Center. The building appeared brand new and was of a modern architectural design. It looked like it could house a high tech company. After parking our car, we proceeded to the Administrative Office to sign into the school’s visitor list.
John Zehentbauer, Assistant Superintendent, was our host for the on-site filming. John greeted us with a large smile and a hearty handshake. As the film crew had not yet arrived, John took us on a tour of his campus. The facility was impressive. It was clean, modern and made great use of natural lighting. It was more like a modern office building and manufacturing plant. You could tell the faculty and students took great pride in maintaining their classrooms and the campus in general. Our first stop was to visit the cosmetology program. We were greeted by the instructor Lisa Argiro. She was full of energy and genuinely excited to have us visit her classroom. The students were already at work on their projects and the entire setting was set up just like a large salon from the receptionist desk to the various stations for hair styling, manicures and pedicures. All qualified students will go through a mock state board exam at MCCTC prior to their Columbus state board exam for licensing in the state of Ohio. Students who complete all 1500 required hours are eligible for the Ohio State Board of Cosmetology Licensure Exam before graduation. Every student was dressed for work and was intensely focused on their classroom assignments. I noted that the students were working together and helping each other as they moved around their stations. I must admit having acquired a Jean-Luc Picard hairstyle some years earlier, I felt a bit out of place, but noted that Katie and Barbara, my teammates, were oohing and awing at the expertise shown by the students.
Next, John took us to tour their Construction Sciences program. We entered the classroom laboratory which had a large high ceiling bay of perhaps 2,000 square-feet. We were introduced to David Smith who ran the program. David like every other instructor we met had come from industry and brought real world experience into the classroom. After a large smile and firm handshake, David walked us through his lab where his students had built full-sized two story building structures and smaller building mock-ups. Under David’s watchful eyes, his students received instruction as carpenters, masons, electricians, and plumbers. The lab area was well kept and I noted the students on the second floor of the building structures were using fall restraint harnesses as part of their personal protective equipment in addition to hard hats, gloves and safety glasses. This pleased me greatly. David allowed us to talk to several of his students who explained their classroom construction projects. Each student beamed with pride as they talked about their project and the job skills they were learning. I also noted that several of the students worked in the construction trades outside of school and I was pleased they all had taken OSHA safety awareness training as part of their curriculum. I love people who build things. Whether it is houses, office buildings, boats, fence lines, barns, automobiles, computers or jet aircraft, I love learning how things are made.
In 2014, the itch to move to the countryside where I could have a barn workshop and a tank (what Texan’s call a pond) had reached an unbearable point so I decided to have a serious conversation with my wife. We sat down in the living room couch and I explained my grand plan. We find 10 acres or so with a pond (I had been looking at land within an hour’s drive for about a year and a half) and we build a barn. Later we can build a house and get some animals. She looked at me wild eyed and asked rather emotionally, “Animals – what kind of animals?” I said, “You know – farm animals.” I suggested we could get a dog or two, some cows, goats and maybe some chickens. We already had two cats. My wife stood up almost screaming, “You have got to be kidding. Do you expect me to live in the country with animals? What if you die? I will be left with all that mess to clean up!” I wanted to tell her I had no plans of dying, but it did not seem to be the right moment to bring this up. She then asked, “Is this really what you want to do?” I responded with a firm, “Yes.” She got quiet and went to our bedroom to go to sleep. We did not speak further of the grand plan until the next morning. As it turns out, she got up sometime during the night, I am not sure when as I was fast asleep, where she searched online for properties in our local area that met “some” of my grand plan specifications. At breakfast, I cooked, she handed me listings for three properties she could accept (I assumed she meant tolerate) for me to visit. I looked at all three, but only one had my real interest. Long story short, I selected the one that had a barn and a two acre pond. Oh, I almost forgot – the property also had a house. We moved in two months later. No animals beyond our cats, but I now have a barn workshop and a pond. You are probably asking, “Why is he telling me this in the middle of his school visit story?” Well, I liked the barn because I get to build things. First, I designed some interior walls with help of a friend and a handy free CAD software package. Next, my friends and I framed the walls. I then did the sheet rocking, floating, sanding and painting. This also included electrical wiring and plumbing. I will admit the DIY videos on YouTube were a big help. I also made some good friends at Lowe’s and Home Depot. I cannot tell you the satisfaction I got from admiring my handiwork. I would stand there and just look at what I had accomplished; my barn, my work – so beautiful. I was in heaven. I knew, as I stood there watching these young men and women working on their projects, the pride of ownership they were feeling. Building things builds character. You get to solve problems. You make mistakes and you must correct them. You may even curse along the way as you drop a tool or mismeasure a cut or two, but in the end you take pride in what you accomplished. I knew firsthand what these students were experiencing.
After thanking David and his students, John took us to visit the school’s Aviation program where students learn to work on aircraft. The hanger was large and most importantly filled with a variety of aircraft including a Huey helicopter. The students were learning to master aircraft mechanics and avionics repair. I was so thrilled to see and touch the aircraft I almost forgot I was on a tour. The students and their instructor shared their passion for their work and I was amazed at the job skills they were acquiring. As with all the classrooms and labs we would visit, the students were dressed appropriately in work attire with the proper safety equipment in place. Just as important were the student attitudes. These young men and women met you with a handshake, smile and gladly shared their knowledge with regard to their chosen skill craft. We continued our tour visiting Culinary Arts with a full cafeteria kitchen which was open to serve the general public once the students had achieved a level of demonstrated proficiency. We then moved on to Visual Arts then Automotive Technology and finally Precision Machining. I was jealous of the tools I saw in the shop. The students had metal lathes, sheet metal brakes, drill presses and multi-axis CNC machines. The shop was well organized and well maintained by the students.
The film crew had arrived at the school during our tour and they filmed the students working as we visited the classrooms, labs and shop areas. We decided to shoot our interviews in the Machine Shop. While we were filming John and I had a chance to visit about his time at Mahoning. He shared with me story after story of his students, their teachers and community leaders who made his school success possible. One theme John brought up really resonated with me. He talked about how the “hands-on” application of knowledge gained from the classroom made learning mean something of significance to his students. His students were applying science, technology, engineering and math to real world problem solving. He told me how many of these students might have dropped out of school if not for the programs they offered. His students graduate with employment credentials and certifications in their fields of study and most importantly have gained career skills they can take with them anywhere in the country to get a job. He also told me that many will go to college, but those students will take with them the extra credentials they have obtained in high school. The more John talked about his students, the more passion he projected in each example of how his school was making a difference in the lives of these young men and women. John and David along with an incredible young man Brendon were interviewed by our film crew to be included in the news segment. They were fantastic in their professionalism and support of workplace safety practices and training.
As the film crew was packing up their equipment, we thanked our gracious hosts one last time for opening their campus to us. We said our goodbyes and headed to our car for the journey back to the hotel. During the drive back to Cleveland, we talked about what we had seen and heard. John, his Superintendent, David and the other faculty have created an incredible learning environment. The young men and women who pass through their programs leave high school with workplace skills, credentials and certifications that will remain with them for life. More importantly, the students are acquiring the skills for critical thinking, acceptable workplace behaviors, business management and the methods for lifelong learning. In this day and age it may be old fashion, but at this moment, I felt humbled by what we had experienced and proud to be an American. What a difference the leadership and faculty at Mahoning County Career Center are making for our future.