Suzanne Boyle, Belleville News-Democrat
GRANITE CITY, Ill. (AP) — Lucas Cooper admits sitting in a classroom hasn’t always been his favorite thing to do.
“I never liked school a lot until I came here,” the 20-year-old from Edwardsville said. “I like working with my hands and finding a place where I could make something of myself.”
Lucas is a student at the Sam Wolf Granite City Campus of Southwestern Illinois College. He plans to graduate in December with an associate degree in precision machining technology.
Students in the program receive training to operate equipment such as lathes, mills, drill presses and grinders. They also learn computer software programs to design parts and create programs used on what are called CNC (Computerized Numerical Control) machines used in business and industry.
Last spring, Lucas was part of a team of three students who won second place in the Automated Manufacturing Technology category at an annual state competition called Illinois SkillsUSA, held in Springfield.
Before finding his career path, though, he spent a year at another community college taking general studies. “But I didn’t do very well,” Lucas said. “I struggled with regular classes.”
A friend of his father’s told him about the Precision Machining Technology program at SWIC (which wasn’t offered at the other school), and there’s been no looking back since.
“I liked it from the beginning. I actually am productive — I like to work on machines,” Lucas said. “It gives me pride in what I do, and I feel accomplished.”
SWIC’s Industrial Technology Program Coordinator Mark Bosworth said Lucas quickly stood out in the two-year program.
“He’s here every day on time, and he helps other students when I’m not available,” said Bosworth who has been the program coordinator for nine years. He added that the precision machining technology program is popular at SWIC with 60 to 70 students entering in fall and another 20 to 30 in January. Besides the associate degree, the program offers five certifications.
Lucas understands what newcomers are going through.
“I didn’t know how to even turn things on,” he said, grinning. “But I picked it up pretty quickly.”
Bosworth said the machining skill set is universally important.
“Anything you buy or produce starts with a machinist,” he said. “An engineer may design it, then a machinist produces it.”
Lucas already has put his skills to work. Besides going to school full time for the past year Lucas has worked a part-time job at Roller Technologies in Maryland Heights, Mo., polishing urethane rollers on lathes for canning companies.
It’s a starting position, but that’s alright with him; he’s gaining shop experience and possibly a full-time job, he said.
As for that second place at the state competition, SWIC’s other team of three went on to become the best in the nation. The teams each had to design and then produce a part using a computer-aided manufacturing program.
Lucas said he’s looking forward to taking part in it again and earning first place this time. •