Getting Technical: Congresswoman visits Milford High School’s Applied Technology Center

Telegraph photo by GRACE PECCI U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, D-N.H., right, on Tuesday visits Milford High School for a tour of the school’s Applied Technology Center. Kuster spoke with school officials, staff and representatives from partnering companies to learn more.

MILFORD – U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, D-N.H., would certainly never discourage anyone from pursuing a bachelor’s degree.

Still, during her Tuesday visit to Milford High School, Kuster acknowledged that four-year degrees are likely not the best path for everyone.

“It is so oppressive for people with the burdens they have for college debt right now, and parents are overwhelmed,” Kuster said while speaking with students and staff members. “They’re wondering, ‘How can we possibly pay for this,’ and young people are coming out literally in hundred of thousands of dollars of debt.”

“There are opportunities to do it a different way – go to a community college, live at home, get a couple years under the belt,” Kuster said.

Kuster on Tuesday went to Milford to tour the school’s Applied Technology Center and learn about the new Manufacturing Exploration and Externship program.

The manufacturing program is set for launch at the start of the 2019-20 academic term. The course is open to eligible juniors and seniors who will get the chance to gain real-world experience in the manufacturing industry, while simultaneously earning college credits and $12 per hour.

Participating students will spend first the few weeks of their semester in the classroom learning about safety skills and preparing to go into the field. For the rest of the semester, students will spend about six hours a week directly in the field at Spraying Systems Co. and Hitchiner Manufacturing Co. Inc.

This course has been in the works for months, but is finally coming to fruition. Though the program is only open to 24 students, about 40 students have already expressed interest.

Kuster on Tuesday walked around the school and spoke to students and staff members about their projects. Director of Technical Studies Rich Paiva guided Kuster through the school’s machining, computers and engineering areas.

After the tour, Kuster sat down with school officials, representatives from Hitchiner, Spraying Systems and students for a discussion. Milford junior Caroline Boudreau spoke of her experiences touring Spraying Systems’ facilities.

“It was amazing and I loved to see that they were using different software and G-codes, similar to what we were learning in my classes,” Boudreau told Kuster.

Kuster spoke of the importance of machinists.

“I think for quite a long time, parents and other people would be telling people go to college. Everything is about going to college, and then somewhere, we missed a generation of machinists,” Kuster said.

Inquiring students recently toured both Spraying Systems and Hitchiner to speak with representatives.

Hitchiner Vice President Corporate Affairs and Services Tim Sullivan said the tours allowed for a great opportunity to talk to parents about the experiential learning that comes out of the externship, and that it can help form career choices.

“You don’t have to make a choice between college or a career. You can come to any of our companies and work, and then you don’t have the financial burden of tuition because you can take advantage of the tuition assistance programs that almost all of the manufacturing programs have,” Sullivan said.

Kuster said this was a great investment for both recruitment and retention.

Sullivan said, “As an 18-year-old, you don’t know what the best career path is. You only have your own experiences.”

Sullivan added that being able to work at any of the manufacturing companies, while taking required courses, will benefit all the participating students.

Milford School District Superintendent Jessica Huizenga has also been reaching out to community colleges, such as Manchester Community College and Nashua Community College.

“I think it is important not only to partner with the corporate sector, but also partner with higher education and work in a triad in order to bring early college options and pathways for students,” Huizenga told Kuster. “Why wait for students to get an associate’s degree when they leave high school? Why not start that process now?”

During the visit, Kuster said of the program, “I think what you’re doing is really, really important and getting those families and young people to see what’s possible, to see what’s right here.”