Last year's vocational education camp at Linn-Benton Community College brought 24 middle-school students to the campus for just four days.

This year, thanks to efforts by Pipeline Director Josefine Fleetwood and Oregon State University STEM Academy Director Cathy Law, the camp doubled in enrollment, expanded to eight days, spread to high schoolers as well as middle school, and encompassed labs and workshops at OSU in addition to LBCC.

And still organizers had students asking to sign up. That tells camp sponsors they're onto something.

"We had a waiting list and we still had people trying to get in," Fleetwood said.

CTE stands for career technical education; the stuff people used to call "shop class." STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics — or manufacturing, depending on who's talking — and usually involves project-based learning that students can work on both individually and in teams.

Through Pipeline, a mid-valley partnership sponsored by local manufacturers, educators and businesses, Fleetwood is working to capitalize on connecting students with more opportunities in both fields. The camp is one such effort.

The two-week, two-college CTE STEM Camp wraps up today. It offered hands-on opportunities to 50 students from five school districts in Corvallis, Lebanon, Albany and Sweet Home.

High school students spent last week at OSU and this week at LBCC, while their younger counterparts stayed on the opposite campuses.

At OSU, campers learned about engineering programs and STEM degrees they might pursue. At LBCC, students rotated among projects in welding, machine tool, mechatronics and computer-aided drafting and design. Both camps featured guest speakers, field trips, transportation and lunch.

Both colleges have offered CTE opportunities in the past, but this was the first time they formed a partnership for the camp, said Dave Becker, LBCC's dean of applied technology and industry division.

A $100,000 CTE grant from the Oregon Department of Education made the joint effort possible, but Becker said the idea is to have camp again next year even if the grant isn't available.

That's good news to Bob Tatum, Lebanon High School's welding instructor and the leader of the welding sessions at LBCC. 

After two decades of statewide focus on just getting kids ready for four-year institutions, educators are realizing they're missing a vocational bet, he said. Local manufacturers need workers, and students need to know they have options.

"We realize we need to train kids in vocations. Not just for the industry's sake, but for the kid's sake," Tatum said. "They just enjoy school more." 

Not everyone wants a university degree — and not everyone needs one for a solid future, he added. "That's unrealistic. It ignores not just other opportunities — job opportunities out there you don't need a four-year degree for — but it ignores people's aptitudes." 

Some of the campers, like incoming Sweet Home High School senior Brandon Driver, 17, already know they want a career in the manufacturing industry. "I have some big future plans I'm going to need quick money for, and a fabrication job might be the way to do that," he said. 

Others, like 13-year-old Evan Cassat, who will be a freshman this fall at Crescent Valley High in Corvallis, never picked up an arc welder in their lives.

"My friend invited me. I thought it was going to be a fun idea — I wasn't doing a lot this summer," Evan said. "Welding is kind of tricky, but once you get the hang of it, it's super fun."

Only one girl enrolled in last year's camp, so Fleetwood and other organizers recruited heavily to bring in more this year. "It's important because the manufacturing industry wants to have broader representation of our population in their workforce," she explained.

Ava Edwards, 15, who will be a sophomore at Corvallis High School this fall, was one of those who responded.

"I have no idea what I want to do when I get out of high school, and I thought I might see everything that is out there to do, all the possibilities," she said.

That, said Tatum, the welding instructor, is the whole point of CTE STEM Camp: "This just scratches the surface, but it whets their appetite."

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