Engineering a future

Kohler hosts tours for eighth-graders with eye to future workforce
by Emmitt B. Feldner of The Review staff


RIVERVIEW MIDDLE SCHOOL eighth-graders prepare for a tour of the Kohler Co. facilities Thursday, part of a county-wide effort by the company and county educators to introduce students to careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The event also included a career fair with Kohler Co. engineers and representatives of area schools (below). — Review photos by Emmitt B. Feldner RIVERVIEW MIDDLE SCHOOL eighth-graders prepare for a tour of the Kohler Co. facilities Thursday, part of a county-wide effort by the company and county educators to introduce students to careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The event also included a career fair with Kohler Co. engineers and representatives of area schools (below). — Review photos by Emmitt B. Feldner KOHLER – Colleges recruit athletes as early as middle school and now local industry is taking a page from that book.

To that end, the Kohler Co. is in the midst of hosting every eighth-grader in Sheboygan County for a factory tour and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) career fair.

Thursday it was Riverview Middle School’s turn.

“We know we’ve got to hit them early,” Kohler Stewardship Manager Cindy Howley explained. “We’re going to need to have people in these jobs when all the baby boomers retire.”

The students spent two hours touring various areas of the Kohler campus, from the new product model shop to the foundry, then meeting with Kohler employees and representatives of local higher education institutions to learn about possible career paths.

“Our goal is to reach every single eighth-grader in the county,” a total of around 1,400 students, Kohler Associate Public Relations Manager Anne Smith said.

The program started in the spring and is being completed this fall, she added, with plans to make it an annual event.

Nearly five dozen Kohler Co. associates led the tours and introduced students to their various departments and jobs.

Naturally, the students found some areas more interesting than others, but all were attentive and engaged throughout the tour.

A visit to a testing lab gave the students a chance to see how Kohler engineers test the flushing capabilities of their trademark toilets.

The students also got to see the company’s top-of-the-line Numi toilet in action. They were engrossed by the motion-activated seat and cover, heated seat, foot warmer, and available music on the $6,000 unit.

They also learned how science, technology, engineering and mathematics apply in all facets of Kohler’s manufacturing and design process, from packaging to pottery and more.

“The part of the process I like is being creative and coming up with solutions to problems,” engineer Steve Aykens said in demonstrating how a new flexible kitchen faucet was designed.

“It all comes down to problem-solving,” engineer Dave Wilson agreed. “We like solving problems. We’re trying to take the things we learned in school and apply them. Actually, making mistakes is encouraged. That’s how we get better and how we improve.” Howley said the tour and program were designed in conjunction with local school administrators and teachers. It will be tweaked and improved with the results of surveys filled out by students after the tour – and deposited, naturally, in a display Kohler toilet.

Eight graders were chosen as the targets for the program because they are getting ready to enter high school and select their courses of study, Howley and Smith both said.

“We know that by high school it’s usually too late,” to influence many students’ career choice, Smith noted.

“If we can give them a little exposure and excite them, they might go into that pathway and remember, hopefully, that it was in Kohler that they first got interested,” Howley added.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to engage them,” Kohler engineer Matt Bahrens said of the tours. “Even the kids who aren’t going into an engineering role can still see that this (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) has application in any job they’re going into.”



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