Children who attend summer day camps will often bring home arts and crafts projects they’ve created during the hours away from home. For the youth at fabrication camp at the Madison College-Fort Atkinson campus, they were able to bring home not only projects they’ve completed, but the skills to operate machines used by manufacturing companies.

For two weeks, the campus hosted middle school-age students for metal fab camp where youth had the opportunity to use the college’s metal fabrication lab as each participant created a variety of projects ranging from a simple hanger to a more complex fire ring.

Among the campers were Waterloo residents Gunner Blawusch, 13, and Celia Straubhaar, 15.

Blawusch attended both weeks of camp this summer; during the first week he and his fellow campers were introduced to welding and the manufacturing machines they would be using. The second week allowed teens to work more with computer aided design (CAD) and computer aided manufacturing (CAM) software.

He had no prior welding or machinery but after two weeks, Blawusch has learned to safely use the equipment and created several projects.

Straubhaar returned after last summer, when just the one-week introductory camp was held. She attended the second week of camp this year because she wanted to get more involved with the design process of manufacturing and using the waterjet cutter.

Roger Bratberg, a full-time metal fabrication instructor at the campus who leads the camp, said it was suggestions by 2018 campers like Straubhaar that prompted the decision to add a second week to the camp, focusing more on the design aspect of manufacturing.

Straubhaar decided to attend the inaugural 2018 camp because she wanted to learn more about manufacturing beyond welding. The Waterloo resident arrived at the Fort Atkinson campus with prior welding experience.

“I usually weld when I am at home because I can steal my dad’s (metal) scraps and weld it into art like animal sculptures,” she said, noting her dad bought her a welder a few years ago due to her interest.

The program does more than allow area middle school students the opportunity for hands-on manufacturing programs. According to Madison College – Fort Atkinson campus manager Maria McClellan, the school hopes the camp will help grow the manufacturing workforce.

“Because Jefferson County is large in the manufacturing industry, we hear from the community often that there’s just no numbers, there’s just no workers, we need qualified workers, we’re even willing to train workers. It’s our hope to help with that shortage,” she said.

The fab camp introduces youth – and their parents — to modern manufacturing. Many manufacturing jobs now entail the use of computer technology, as some of the campers were surprised to learn.

Bratberg said the students spend a good portion of their time during the second week working on the computers and the rest of the time the campers are “making a lot of noise by welding and bending and everything else.”

“We wanted to give them (students) real life experience as to what a career in manufacturing entails, give them a taste of it… It’s planting the seeds for the manufacturing industry,” McClellan said.

The popularity of the program has boomed. There were 12 applicants for the first year; this summer, a total of 45 students applied for either one or both weeks of the camp. However, one-third of the applicants were denied as no more than 15 teenagers can participate during each week.

“It’s gratifying that people are appreciating the opportunity,” Bratberg said.

Both of the Waterloo teens had positive reviews of the program.

“I’ve enjoyed the welding a lot and I’ve enjoyed my instructors teaching me how to do stuff and use the machines,” Blawusch said.

Straubhaar echoed his sentiments.

“I just really like the program. I’m really excited to make the fire ring and I can say ‘I made this.’ And it looks really professional, too,” she said.

McClellan said fab camp is funded through a grant by Nuts, Bolts and Thingamajigs, a national foundation that offers manufacturing camps and scholarships. Additionally, campers are able to attend for free due to generous donations by nine manufacturing companies, including Sussek Machine Corporation in Waterloo.

The three-year grant will be available for the 2020 camp. McClellan said the college is considering pursuing another grant to help the camp continue but the hope is to get enough businesses to sponsor the program so it can be self-sustaining and continue to be free for campers.

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