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The business of education: McDowell High School will offer automation training




Millcreek’s McDowell High School will launch a new career training program in partnership with local businesses this fall.

The McDowell Automation Alliance will work with Great Lakes Automation Services, James H. Cross Company and Epworth Automation to teach students automation skills that are in demand in industry.

“These students will be learning a skills set that is definitely needed not only in our area but actually around the country. And with those skills, they will be able to get good-paying jobs,” said Mark Fatica, owner and president of Great Lakes Automation Services.

Students will collaborate on real-world projects as they learn to program robotic arms and create automation solutions that can be used by local manufacturers.

Epworth Automation owner Caleb Sanford, a 2016 McDowell High School graduate, looks forward to working with the students.

“I am very excited to pass on the knowledge that I have in industry and engineering,” Sanford said.

A $200,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development Training to Career program will provide several types of robotic arms for McDowell Automation Alliance, which will be located in a former wood shop at McDowell.

The approximately 2,500-square-foot space will be renovated for the program as part of a $35 million renovation of McDowell High School this summer. The automation and production lab will be located adjacent to McDowell Manufacturing, a student-run business that makes parts for area industries.

McDowell Manufacturing was believed to be only the second student-run manufacturing company in the nation when it opened in fall 2020 in partnership with the Northwest Industrial Resource Center and with almost $200,000 in state funding.

It was featured by IndustryWeek magazine in October 2022. It has 98 student employees this school year and is the model for other student-run manufacturing companies now operating in Pennsylvania.

McDowell Automation Alliance students will be able to collaborate with McDowell Manufacturing on some projects, McDowell Manufacturing instructor Kyle Bucholtz said. Bucholtz worked with local business leaders to design the new automation training program.

McDowell High School students will be able to enroll in the new venture beginning this fall. The program will accept as many as 50 students, Bucholtz said.

McDowell Automation Alliance atudents will be able to move on for further education or move into good jobs in a variety of industries where automation is becoming increasingly prevalent, Millcreek Township School District Superintendent John Cavanagh said.

And that will also benefit both students and industry, Cavanagh said.

“McDowell Automation Alliance students will possess the competencies needed to seamlessly transition into roles that will sustain our local companies as leaders in manufacturing, fortifying industry within our community,” Cavanagh said.

A $30,000 grant to the McDowell Automation Alliance from the California-based Gene Haas Foundation will provide scholarships as well as tools that students will need on the job.

This summer: McDowell’s student-run manufacturing company to offer state-funded camp

Contact Valerie Myers at

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