Join us as we speak with Director, Daniel Cocchiola and Gabe Jenkins an Instructor from the Hamden Engineering Career Academy (HECA). On this episode we dive into the incredible program they offer high schoolers in Hamden.
Applications close on March 17 for the HECA scholarship. Apply online. If you miss this deadline then look out for the application window in early 2024.
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Never miss an episode again and subscribe today wherever you get your podcast From. On every episode, we take the opportunity to learn more about a local manufacturing. Welcome along to the latest episode of Meet the Manufacturers on behalf of manufacturer ct. It is my great pleasure to be speaking with Dan Kochi and Gabe Jenkins today.
They're from the Hamden Engineering Career Academy. It's quite a mouthful. They affectionately call it, Hecker for sure. And I kind of like that. Heck of a good day is what I read on your website, which is rather cool. So Daniel is the director of HECA for Hamden Public Schools, and Gabe is a Hecker instructor.
Gentlemen, welcome to Meet the Manufacturer's podcast. Thank you. Thank you, Claire. Glad to be here. It's great to have you here. Now, first of all, Dan, you've got the hot seat job. You're the director. Tell me a little bit about the program, how it got started, when did it launch, how does it work exactly. 2017 from AVO and Department of Labor.
Change the rules around pre-app apprenticeships. The listeners of this podcast may remember that in that previous to that, only students out of VO-tech schools in Connecticut at 16 and 17 years old can work in a manufacturing facility for pre-apprenticeship hours. Post that schools with structured programs directly related to manufacturing and engineer.
Could apply for and get permission to move students in that direction. So that rule change within the Department of Labor was critical to us envisioning building a program like Heca. And really right off the bat, we thought doing a dual enrollment program. Whereby students would have an opportunity to earn college credits.
College certificates in an associate's degree, which is something we're extraordinarily proud of about, and workforce readiness skills would be the direction we wanted to go. I'd be remiss if, if I didn't immediately say one of the linchpins to this happening. Was a state assemblyman, Mike Di Augustino, who when we brought the idea to him, we had it on the back of an envelope.
This is what we wanna do, and Mike brought it to the assembly and was able to secure funding for us to redo our facility. So by 2018, 2000, late 2018, early 2019, we. The funding in place and we were beginning to build and we were bringing students into the program 2019 fall, we started with our first cohort and we were completing the physical project at that time.
So that's our roots. The higher ed partner, as well as the industry partners, the industry partners who our students go and get that experiential learning. Without those two components, what we do here can happen. So it's really the three groups together. And today I really hope that some industry partners hear about us and wanna work with our extraordinary kids.
I mean, one of the biggest things that I hear week in, week out on this podcast from so many different manufacturing companies across Kinetica, is the workforce development being one of the biggest challenges, you know, is getting. Good people in the right positions, a variety of different levels of their career, you know, at different stages of their career, I should say.
So this is absolutely key, the future of engineering and manufacturing in Connecticut. So, How do people get involved with it, essentially? I mean, how have you created these partnerships that you've got in place already, you know, and how can manufacture CT organizations get in touch with you and how does that work exactly What's required from our manufacturers to make this work?
Listen, Jamie Scott has been with us from day. Right. We came up with the name Heca, with the concept, you know, in the back of his, you know, facility there in Woodbridge at at air handling. And Jamie's been a huge advocate and a huge asset. And I think as manufacturers, CT grow, the kind of more embedded we can be, the better.
Last year and, and Gabe, you know, could speak to this a little bit too. Last year we had a group of companies come into our school to meet with our students and widely, I think they were super impressed with who our kids are and what they have to offer. But we had seven or eight companies, or 10, I think I would've loved to have had 30, I would've loved to have had 40.
I think the fear among manufacturers, , you know, can I really bring on the 17 year old? What are the insurance implications within my organization? Is this program out of a comprehensive high school? One that really is vetted is this one that, that, you know, I'm safe and secure, bringing this student in. And these are questions that we want to address and answer and talk with anyone in the business.
C. Who wants to hear, and whether it's Jamie Scott or Todd Birch of the Department of Labor, you know, we have our ducks in a row and we wanna make sure people know about who we are. Sounds awesome. So Dan, how did you first get involved with Heca? You know, it's so interesting how things happen in a great state like Connecticut, and so Sal Menzo in 2017 was the, uh, superintendent in Wallingford.
And, and Sal made a push for manufacturing and engineering education in Wallingford, and it splashed across the front page of the, uh, Meridan record journal. And my superintendent caught a glimpse of that. Jody Golder caught, caught a glimpse of that article and he send it to me and he said, Dan, I think we need to do something with this.
And that was the impetus. So it's great that there's a state rule that changes. People local to us start to think about how to make it happen, and then we kinda have the autonomy to go ahead and make this work. And. , my experience has been in career development and career planning, workforce development.
And so it was an easy segue to try to get our heads around this. It's definitely in a similar vein, isn't it? Gabe, what about yourself? Welcome to the show. Thank you. Tell me a little bit about yourself. How did you end up in this position and working with this, the future of manufacturing in Connecticut?
I have been a science teacher and STEM academic. For about two decades, and some have in Connecticut, some have in California. And the school where I was before was very heavily focused strictly on college readiness, college preparation. And so in some ways that was a wonderful place to be. But at some point I started to look for opportunities that had maybe a little bit more balanced approach to what we were preparing our kids for after high school.
And I live in Hampton, and so I read, I can't even remember where I read on maybe. Maybe a website. I can't remember what that, there was gonna be a local presentation at the library about the hecka program that was coming up, and I went to it, not really as a job search kind of thing. I went to it because I have two children who are in Hampton schools and one of whom was gonna be at the high school in a few years.
And so I was thinking to myself, well, Let me just see what this whole thing is about. It sounds kind of cool. Sounds interesting. And so I went to listen to Dan speak along with another man from the town in charge of business development. And you know, he kind of went through the whole program and what they were trying to do with, you know, preparing kids for college as part of it, but also giving kids an experience that would allow them to go right into the workforce if they wanted to.
And my head was just kinda like, this is amazing. This is like absolutely the kind of program that I wanted to be involved in cuz a was. Right. It was, it's engineering, right? But it's also cool, like it's fun to make things. When I had, I think I had missed that in my personal life for a little while. And so anyway, so I went up to Dan afterwards and I said, Hey, Wanna just throw this out there, you know, if you're thinking about, you know, hiring people to do the work for the program, I'm interested in this.
And so we talked about it for a while, and then I ended up coming on board to start the program for the first cohort, which was four years ago, and they're now about to graduate right now, which is really, really exciting. One of the interesting things for me was, you know, kind of coming in at the very beginning of the program.
It allowed me a chance to kind of develop it in certain ways that I thought would be really good for kids and you know, kind of certainly do all the work that was necessary in terms of academic preparation that Gateway was requiring. But also kind of having a chance to develop a community feel with the kids in the program that I was really excited about building.
So it was interesting to me as a person coming into a startup kind of situation within a larger, more. You know, a school system, right? But having this kind of a startup situation and being able to just kind of take it where I wanted to take it with kids, which has proven to be a really, really interesting, fun, rewarding experience.
It must have been fabulous being a passionate teacher in your field to be able to shape your curriculum and your program around what you understand to be real life situations must have been super rewarding. Yeah. Tell me about the summer camp, Gabe. Tell me about the summer camp you do. Well, summer camp kind of is part of that community f.
Building thing, right? We take the, the students who are just freshly admitted to the program and we just spend a week with them. It's very laid back. We're there to try to make some connections with kids, to introduce them, them to us, like this is who I am. So that on day one of school, they. They have a better idea of what I'm like and have me get a chance to learn everybody's name and have them maybe get a chance to do a few things.
One, meet a couple of people that they might not have known, so they're on day one of school. You know, these are eighth graders coming up to high school and it's a large, and so it, it can be overwhelming for a brand new kid to ninth grade. But if they come into the school and then they see me and they see one or two students that they.
From the summer, it makes them a little bit more comfortable. So there's a chance to build some community and just have some fun and introduce them to some engineering hands-on activities that, you know, take a week to do. So it's not like super intense, but it gives 'em a feel like we want you to be able to think, we want you to be able to make things, we want you to be able to solve problems.
So we give some experiences that that just kind of work towards those goals. Great. And I think the other thing of the summer camp is, It begins the norm of students being engaged every summer. See, HECA is not just the first day of school till the last, you know, seven 30 to two every day. We stretch the school year, we stretch the school day, and so one of the important factors that we wanted to do was establish the norm that we have expectations and students will rise to meet those expectations outside of.
Regular school schedule, and it's done in a fun way. But in the second summer, they come back and they're doing an intensive CAD class five hours a day for a period of weeks, and it's necessary to drop it in the summer because the prerequisite is taken the previous year. And the next class in sequence is the following year in in the third.
The, the majority of our students need to do a full summer of math. So where everyone else has summer off, you know, they're busy doing algebra two, you know, from June through August. So the idea of establishing that idea that work is around the calendar, you're gonna have obligations coming into 12th grade.
You know, we really stretch the school day whereby the students come to Hampton in high school in the morning. and a little before noon, they leave and they go off to the local community college at Gateway, our great partner, and they're engaged in classes there on campus until three 30 in the afternoon.
So I think that kind of concept of the rigor and establishing the norms, but making it fun and making it community. One of the interesting things is we're cohort based, so students. Go through the program with each other, right? 38 students show up the summer camp and over the course of the next four years, they're traveling with each other at least 25% of the time.
Some years as much as 33% of the time they're with the same cohort of kids. So irrespective of how rigorous or challenging it is, they're developing those relationships of support. Most of those classes are taken with our two Hacka teachers, Gabe and and our other Hacka teacher. So there's this real familiarity of instruction and support.
And then I think what Gabe does is, you know, provide that highly rigorous experience with that sense of community that really listen him to high school has almost 1800 student. And it's easy to get lost and we shrink it down so that our kids are in a program of 38. Meet the Manufacturer's podcast on behalf of Manufacture.
CT is created and produced by Red Rock Branding. Red rock branding.com. If you are enjoying this episode, please subscribe to and share this podcast today. One of the interesting things about the community of kids. I saw your eyes kind of light up when you're like a whole summer of math, right? Because most people don't wanna do a whole summer of math when you're, you know, 17 years old, 16 years old, right?
But they're really highly motivated and they are amazing kids that, that I have the opportunity to work with. And they're not monolithic either. They represent everything about Hamden, which is cool. We're about 50% girls, 50% boys. , all of the different ethnic racial groups are represented. Different socioeconomic statuses are represented pretty much everybody, like we have the kids who are in band.
We have the kids who wanna be engineers, kids who don't really know exactly what they wanna do yet we have people who are captains of sports. The people who are. In the plays and the people who build the sets for the plays, right? We have every Hanuk kid is in the program and you know it's kids that you might not expect to hang out so much together in high school, but because they're spending so much time and we really do try hard to make it feel like a community, these kids end up being really, really close friends by the time they leave high school.
Like there's a group that, you know, when they go down to gateway kids jump in the car, they carpool together. And it might not be the kids who were friends freshman year when you look at them. How are those people, even friends, like you know, but they are because cuz they have shared interests and they have the shared experience where they know that they've put in a lot of time and a lot of hard work to achieve something that is really hard to achieve in high school.
They're graduating with the diploma and an associate's degree cuz they put in the work, they put in the time, they put in that summertime to really like reach a goal. A high school graduate is required to have 25 high school credits to meet graduation require. The heck of students are gonna graduate with 32 credits.
They're gonna have a whole nother year essentially under their belt. They also graduate with 65 college credits. They complete two years of a four year degree in the time that they're in high school. We also aren't just looking for the kid who's the savant and shows up taking calculus in ninth. We'll take any kid who's interested.
Because when you put them together, they teach each other and that's how they grow. Building on that, one of the things that is just kind of worth mentioning is that, you know, we're be, before kids are in the program, we, we talk to them to try to figure out what is their actual, their real motivation level, what is their real interest level?
And we ask them, what kind of stem experiences have you had in the. That kind of make you wanna think about doing this as a career or as a job or something. And I'm just as excited about a kid who says, I learned to code on my own, or I built my own computer. Different kid might say, I went down to, you know, Puerto Rico over the summer and my uncle's truck wasn't working.
And so we took the engine apart and put it back together again. I mean, , you know, like that's kinda awesome. Right? And so when I say shared interests, a lot of 'em really do come from different starting points, different backgrounds, but they do have an, a shared interest in understanding how things work.
They have a shared interest in making things. And so it, we're looking for kids that are a good fit for the program, kind of irrespective of, of where they come. Tell me a little bit about the application process. How do you know if you've got parents and young people who are listening to this podcast thinking, yeah man, I wanna get involved with this Hecker, it sounds awesome.
What a headstart I can get and what a wonderful community I can join and be a part of. How do they get involved? How do they apply? How does it work? A heck of application is open to any eighth or ninth grader living in the town of Hampton. The application for the 2320. Year is open right now. It opened on February 15th, and it will remain open through March 17th, and every year we're operating in the same window around the February 15th start time for about a month.
The application is online, it's on our website, the hampton.org website. The application can be found. It's also advertised in the local patch, as well as, you know, some internal communications people, of course, could reach out to myself or. Happy to share our contact information at the end of the pod regarding getting someone a copy of the application.
The application itself is a Google form, relatively easy format to fill out, but we are looking for some specific items from students. What are you looking for in, in prospective members of it? So we use a weighted application. And in that weighted application, we want the hecka cohort to be representative of our community in Hamden.
It's imperative to us that we drive 50% female representation in our group, especially in underrepresented fields such as manufacturing and engineer. We want to train the next generation of female engineers and manufacturers. Love that. Thank you. Hamden is a town that has some economic disadvantage. You know, some measures have it in the 40 to 50% range of economic disadvantage.
It's imperative to us that, you know, somewhere in that range of our population and Heca is gonna have indicators of economic disadvantage. I think when we talk about racial and ethnic diversity, we want the students in ham. And listen, the cohort's not gonna be exact, but we want it to be representative within these categories of our populations.
Other things that are really important to us are do students understand what the program is, understand the rigors of the program, understand the expectations that we're asking of them. Do they know what FEM is? Do they know what engineering is? Do they know what manufacturing? And do they know that through past experiences that they've had, and I think, like Gabe alluded to before, it doesn't matter to us what those experiences were, if it was meaningful to them and it helped teach them that this could be something for them.
Then that's gonna help drive that application as well. And finally, we don't control for past grades. If a student had a C or an A, that's not going to wait into our application at all. But what we do do is we do. In the interview process, we do a reasoning component where we wanna walk through with a student what their reasoning processes are in problem solving.
So in that way, we try to capture the capacity of somebody to go through the engineering thinking, processee problem solving, that's critically important. So, In that we get the application pool complete. We run an interview schedule. Gabe and I will meet with every student who's applied. In some years, it's as many as 70 or 80 or 90 students, and other years it's a little lower, but we'll meet one-on-one with every student.
We will then run our lottery, our weighted lottery, we do it blind. No names, just social security numbers. Once we have it, we backfill the names back in and numbers one through 38 are offered a seat. Really important. An offer of a seat is just a request for the parent and student to sign a contract. We make the parents and students contract that they understand the rigors of the program and the expectations.
That is far and away one of the most important safeguards we have. Generally, we have a little bit of attrition at that. And maybe it's because of the rigors of the program, or maybe it's because the student's interests don't necessarily align with who we are. In any event, it gives us space to pull a few students off the wait list and really get that group to camp in June who's motivated and ready to go.
It sounds absolutely fabulous. You know, not just the opportunity to real fast track your educational development in a. That interests you. I love the fact that you know, anybody from any walk of life can apply for this. So just to reiterate that your deadline for applications for this coming year is the 17th of March.
Please do get on the website hamden.org. There's a little link on there. I believe it's on the right hand side where you can get in touch with these guys. Fill in that form and apply. And obviously if you're listening. Post the 17th of March. Hello to you. It'll be next year for you. February, March time, the following year.
Jenz, what an incredible program you're able to offer these young people in Hamden and give them an incredible opportunity to get such a headstart. How has it been received from, or how has it been received by the manufacturers locally and in Connecticut? It's been tremendous. Again, I, Jamie Scott has.
Our biggest cheerleader at the state level in terms of, of the manufacturing community. One of the things that we all lived through in this world, two and a half, three years ago was a, a global pandemic. And it interrupted some of those processes, some of that communication, some of that working with the larger community, the manufacturers, making sure they knew who we were at schools.
We shut down right for a period of time. At least we weren't here live and in. So I do feel like, you know exactly four years under our belt of running this program. Our first cohort of students will be graduating in June, just four years under our belt. And I feel like we may have a year or two in really latching onto those community partners.
And so Gabe and I are, are really invested in recouping that lost time over the next period of time. We could tighten those relationships and bonds. It sounds like a fabulous program and one that local manufacturers should be jumping all over the amount of training and advancement. You know, hopefully when these young people graduate, they are really gonna be ahead and shoulders above other applications of people who haven't gone through the Hecker program.
You know, the, the diligence and the dedication sounds outstanding and the young people benefit the manufacturers benefit. You know, it's a win-win situation. Gent, it's been fabulous finding out about what you guys do if you are a parent, if you are a young person, if you have got a passion for taking things apart and finding out how they work, this is your opportunity.
Do get on that website, hamden.org. Gentz, thank you so much for being a part of Meet the Manufacturers on behalf of Manufacture ct. It's been such a, Thank you for having us. Thank you, Claire. Thank you for taking the time to listen to this episode of Meet the Manufacturers brought to you by Manufacture ct.
If you would like to find out more about manufacture CT or you would like to join the organization, Visit the website, manufacture ct.org. This podcast is sponsored by Cone Resnick Advisory Assurance Tax. Visit their website, cone resnick.com. If you have enjoyed listening to this episode and want to find out more about the vibrant and thriving manufacturing community in Connecticut, subscribe to and share this podcast.
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