USU Eastern Hosts Local Elementary Students for Tours
The immersive experience allowed students to meet professors, explore the campus, engage in hands-on activities, and even enjoy a lunch in the cafeteria/
PRICE, Utah - The new machine tool technology program at Utah State University Eastern will soon be celebrating its first graduate.
Colin Kirkwood-Zele will be walking at USU Eastern's graduation ceremony this spring and finishing classes this summer for this new program that focuses on the complete manufacturing process. Kirkwood-Zele was first interested in this specific program because he enjoys making things with his hands.
"That's something that really draws me to the program," he said. "Being able to make things with my hands and being able to use those things, I think that's really cool."
During his time in the program, he has made usable tools such as a tap wrench, hammers, a machinist jack, and a fly cutter.
"It's really fascinating to me, to be able to create stuff like that," he said. "It's kind of like an art."
Students in the USU machine tool technology program learn to use machine tools, such as lathes, milling machines, and grinders, to produce precision metal parts, instruments, and tools. Coursework includes both computer-controlled and mechanically controlled machine tools and covers the complete manufacturing process including blueprint reading, material selection, tool setup and operation, and final finish and testing of machined parts. Students leave the program with a CNC machinist certificate of completion.
Classes in the machine tool technology program are designed to mimic jobs in the real world, according to head instructor TJ Gordon.
"This is a very hands-on program," Gordon said. "When you show up to class, you will be in the lab. All of the theory is done at home so you can come to class and apply what you learn. I try to keep projects engaging and fun for the students. My program is modeled on industry standards and students are expected to give their best every day."
The strong career prospects of a machining certificate also appealed to Kirkwood-Zele, who needed a good job to help turn his life around. After being in and out of jail, suffering a workplace injury in a coal mine, and surviving a bout with kidney cancer in 2019, Kirkwood-Zele knew he needed a change. He decided to take greater control of his life and invest in himself.
"I used to feel like I wasn't worth an education, and that an education wouldn't help me in any way," he said. "I've changed my mindset to see that an education is something extremely valuable. I finally had the self-worth to do something for myself. It's been hard, but it's been worth it."
Kirkwood-Zele has excelled during his time at USU Eastern, earning all A and B grades in this challenging program. He often stayed after class, working with his instructors to make sure he was mastering the concepts and understanding the techniques. He reached out to the available services and resources on campus to help support his educational journey.
"Machining is not easy," he said. "It's very difficult and precise. There are so many different operations that go into it. But I don't miss a day of school. I go there and try my hardest every day because I know completing this program will help me change my life. It will be something tangible that I did for myself. That's all I'm looking for, another chance to do something with my life."
Kirkwood-Zele wouldn't have been able to excel in the program without his support system at USU Eastern. Due to the hands-on nature of the program, there has been plenty of one-on-one time with instructors. He credits his instructors, advisors, and the wider campus community for helping him succeed.
"Colin has been a great student," Gordon said. "Getting to know Colin has been a pleasure and the things he has overcome in his life have been a testament to his resilience. Seeing his confidence and his skillset grow has been fun to watch as an instructor, and it is a very exciting perk of working with students that I did not realize I would enjoy so much. I'm excited to see Colin progress and to see him into his next phase of life."
Kirkwood-Zele also has a strong family support system. His mom, siblings, and extended family have been cheering him on during his time at USU Eastern and will be celebrating with him when he crosses the graduation stage.
After graduation, Kirkwood-Zele might consider going on to get an associate's degree, but he is also excited about the prospect of getting a job in the machining field. With his skills in high demand, Kirkwood-Zele will have his pick of workplaces after he graduates.
The machine tool technology program prepares students to enter the workforce directly after graduation, according to Jaycie Miller-Gordon, advisor and program coordinator in the Department of Technology, Design, and Technical Education.
"The program is set up to mimic various shops, so students can get comfortable moving from machine to machine," she said. "They will know how to do a lot of different projects in a real-world setting. It's very hands-on with some online theory work, so most of their time is spent in the shop learning to do exactly what their future employers will want."
Students also have the opportunity to practice their professionalism and interpersonal skills during their time in the program.
"Along with the technical skills, we want our students to get used to showing up on time, being respectful to supervisors, and all those other 'soft skills' that are sometimes overlooked but make a huge difference on the job," Miller-Gordon said.
The new machining program began in the spring of 2022. USU Eastern already offered an evening program in conjunction with the local power plant, but a more comprehensive daytime program was needed to meet the statewide demand for people with machining skills. It is currently a three-semester program but will soon be condensed to one year to better serve the students and quickly fill positions in industry.
The need for machinists is expected to grow in Utah, creating greater demand for trained and skilled workers in this field.
"Working as a machinist is one of the most overlooked career options, in my opinion," said Gordon. "This industry includes aerospace, medical fields, and research and development. Everything we use today has had a machinist involved in some way. Careers are endless and available around the world."
Due to his positive experience, Kirkwood-Zele recommends the programs at USU Eastern to anyone seeking an education. Seeing firsthand how education helped him turn his life around, he hopes to inspire others to do the same.
"It's possible to achieve your dreams," he said. "It doesn't matter how hard it is. You can do it."
To learn more about the programs offered at USU Eastern, visit eastern.usu.edu.
Located in picturesque Price, Utah State University Eastern provides the best of both worlds for students - the personalized attention and small student-to-faculty ratio of a small-town college, with the educational opportunities and resources of a large university. USU Eastern boasts student government opportunities, clubs and programs like theater, choir, and the award-winning student newspaper "The Eagle", as well as its own athletic program. USU Eastern provides personal or professional development training, technical education in Health Professions, Technical Careers and Business, as well as associate, bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees and certificates of proficiency. Learn more at eastern.usu.edu.
Shelby Rudd Jarman