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CAPS students present at the Lincoln County R-III School Board meeting. From left: Jarod Higgins, Chase Short, Ezekiel Jannings and Josh DeCamp.

Since the start of the semester, the Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS) pilot program has been running at the Lincoln County R-III School District. 

Split into two strands – the Medical Strand and the Advanced Engineering and Manufacturing Strand – the CAPS Program gives students at taste of what these professional careers have to offer, all while building soft business skills.

“Hopefully they can discover what they want to do and not pay a lot for college,” CAPS teacher Drew DeManuele said. 

Jarod Higgins, a senior in the CAPS advanced engineering program, said since January the five members of his strand have been given a crash course in soft skills, like resume writing, self-introductions and elevator pitches – essentially putting together their professional profile, and preparing them for the next step in the curriculum. 

“We’ve started now getting into going to corporations and manufacturing places around here, and getting to know them and talking about how they operate,” Higgins said. 

The networking can sometimes lead to “crushing anxiety,” Higgins said, but the students have already pushed through to make several meaningful connections, with CAPS student Chase Short saying his strand has been hard at work building professional relationships in the community. “We’ve just been making more and more connections to business leaders, because with us being the first group, we started out with nothing, we have no one, so we have to go and branch out and find everything for the next few years,” Short said.

Some of those business leaders include Elite Tool & Die, and Toyota Bodine – the latter of which will be working with the CAPS students on an interesting project in the coming weeks. 

Toyota recently acquired a new robot for its plant, and since the CAPS students have  backgrounds in robotics, Toyota wants to employ the students in creating a training program for the new equipment. 

To develop these relationships, Short said the students go out to meet the prospective business partners and run through a basic pitch about themselves and what they want to do. 

“I’ll get to know them, they’ll get to know me, and we’ll build that relationship from there,” Short said. 

The CAPS Advanced Engineering and Manufacturing Strand next year will be at least double the size of the current group; DeManuele estimates that there will be around 13-15 students coming aboard. 

Many of these new students will be coming from the Engineering, Design and Development (EDD) class, which is a senior capstone course for the school’s engineering classes. Some schools will hold EDD and CAPS as a combined course, but Troy holds them as separate classes. During the EDD course, students pick groups and then focus on a problem that they want to solve. 

“They brainstorm and they do research, they put Google surveys out, they talk to professionals, they meet experts,” DeManuele said. “Like one group, a friend of mine who’s a civil engineer, he came in, met with them and talked with them about their project, where it’s going.”

Ezekiel Jannings is a student that’s in both CAPS and EDD this year, and said EDD prepares students more for the technical side of things, while CAPS gets students “industry ready.”

“So it’s going to get your professional soft skills, it’s going to get your business skills down, it’s going to get your networking skills down,” Jannings said. “It’s going to get your ability to have connections already established in high school, as well as internship experience eventually.” 

One of the things Jannings said he likes about EDD is that it can be tailored to the individual student’s interests.

“You can really go in and optimize it for what you want to do,” Jannings said. “So if you really want to do mechanical engineering, you can tackle a mechanical engineering problem.”

Several EDD students presented their projects to the R-III Board of Education on Feb. 18; The first group that presented to the board had a product called the “Butter Stick,” which was mess-free device to measure and cut sticks of butter. Another trio of EDD students had developed a proof of concept for a phone case that would cool hot devices. 

The project Jannings and his partners took on was an attempt to make solution to parking and traffic flow at Troy Buchanan, for which the designed several proposals to provide multiple exits besides Cap Aus Gris, and drew plans for an expanded and easy-to-navigate parking lot. 

As a student in both classes, Jannings said he’s noticed the skills being taught in both crossing over. The CAPS networking and presentation skills for example came into play during the presentation of his EDD project to the school board. 

For this first semester of CAPS, Short said the most challenging aspect has been the networking, and finding those business partners to work with. CAPS is working with a limited radius, so it can’t tap the many industry jobs located near St. Louis City like other programs in St. Charles or St. Louis County can. 

“So it’s very hard to find manufacturers,” Short said.  

The goal is to find companies to tour through, and see how they work and what they apply themselves on, Short said.

“This whole program is about us finding our passion within this,” Short said. Student Josh DeCamp said if students are interested in advancing into a career in a related field, exploring what CAPS has to offer is a great start before going to college. 

Being in CAPS will also give students one-up on the competition in the job market, Higgins said. 

“It’s just fun, and if you’re even thinking about getting into engineering in general, I’m not going to lie, it’s a difficult field to get into,” Higgins said. “But if you’re in this program, you’re going to have your foot in the door already, and you’re going to be good to go.” 

Check out next week’s issue for Part 2, which will look at the Medical Strand of CAPS.

Managing Editor

A certified wiz at playing tabletop war games and binge-watching anime, I spend far too much time on the internet. Also I run a couple of newspapers.

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