New STEM lab opens the American dream door to EHS students

Published 12:35 am Saturday, September 18, 2021

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Education, industry and economic development officials helped snip the ribbon Friday to open the door to a wide range of future opportunities for Elizabethton High School students.

Representatives of Elizabethton School Board, TCAT, Festo, ReleTech, Snap-On Tools, and the First Tennessee Development District were on hand to open the new Festo Lab, a STEM lab designed to expand students’ insight to possible career choices.

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“I look around at the opportunities that our students are going to have with this equipment and it’s unreal that we have something like this in Elizabethton,” said Elizabethton Director of City Schools Richard VanHuss. “There are so many people to thank for this.”

The STEM lab is a partnership that was undertaken by Elizabethton City Schools, TCAT (Tennessee College of Applied Technology), and Festo.

Money for the project came from a GIVE Grant provided by Tennessee Governor Bill Lee.

“This is the nicest and only Festo Lab in the country at this caliber,” said Tony Oran, vice president of sales and marketing for Festo.

“We can’t wait to do more of these in the state of Tennessee because we see this is a way to change education,” he said. “And we just didn’t physically change the room, but we changed the entire experience of the students that are coming in here both in a place from ‘I have to go to school today’ to ‘I want to go to that lab today and learn today and get industry credentials and get credits for TCAT to be job-ready or to pursue post-secondary education.’

“That is our mission: to fill the skills gap to give students a leg up. We don’t sell equipment in hardware and software — we sell competence and skills. We sell the American dream so people can have a livable wage to buy that new truck or buy that fishing boat and to pay for their kid’s college, and I can’t thank everybody enough for allowing me to do that.”

While COVID delayed the project, Friday’s ribbon-cutting sparked new excitement for students and administrators.

“It’s been a year and a half or longer with everything happening, so to finally see the end product is really neat,” said Dr. Jon Minton, Elizabethton High principal. “I am excited to see the future where this will take our students and how our relationship with TCAT can grow to advance manufacturing in other areas too. We have a bright future ahead with this lab.”

Students are equally as excited. Matthew Tester plans to pursue either Megatronics or welding at TCAT and is ready to dig into the modules in the lab. “This is the only lab in the country like this so that means that we have the opportunity other people don’t have at the moment, which will allow us to go into fields knowing what we are doing and have experience and even hours in technical college already, so that’s going to be a big step in helping people to get to the goal they have in their life,” he said.

Engineering Projects instructor David Campbell said the lab has created a buzz among the students, whose curiosity makes him eager to teach using the lab, which includes modules and tools from Megatronics to CNC lathes to a wind tunnel.

Danny O’Quinn, vice president of TCAT, sees the lab as a way to expose students to what doors may be opened to them through TCAT.

“This is the only lab in the United States that is a fully equipped and functional Festo Lab so that is a pretty big deal for Elizabethton,” O’Quinn said. “This gives students exposure to the programs that we offer.

“A lot of students don’t know what TCAT is all about in this area. Even if a student doesn’t want to go to TCAT, Northeast State, or ETSU, they should be able to get skills if they complete all the modules where they are marketable to go work at places like Snap-On. It opens a lot more options for students and is a great recruiting tool for us.”