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Kendrick Castillo spends four hours a day, four days a week in a large warehouse, where he maneuvers tiny wires, assembles metal and plastic parts and does programming on a computer. Young for an intern, the 16-year-old is learning all facets of a professional manufacturing job.“This has a lot more technology than the eye can see,” said Castillo, referring to a line of large, black label-printing machines.Castillo is one of three STEM School and Academy students picked for the first summer intern program at Panther Industries, an automated labeling equipment manufacturer in Highlands Ranch, located just up the street from the K-12 school. With a background in science, technology, engineering and math, students bring more to the table than Panther expected.“We are disappointed that this is ending so fast because of the work they are doing,” said Christian Dow, vice president of Panther. “I didn’t know it would be so expansive, so valuable.”Students are paid for their work, which is in computer-aided design, marketing and production. Interns report to a mentor or boss for tasks and guidance. Castillo’s is Ryan Kirkland, who an engineer at Panther of 11 years. In eight weeks, the length of the internship, Kirkland is giving Castillo a crash course in what the company does.“He gets an idea of what it takes to go from a pile of parts to a machine,” said Kirkland, adding that the real-life experience is something kids don’t learn in school. “He is seeing the process of a manufacturing environment.”Which is important, because finding employees in recent times has been a challenge, Dow said. Colorado’s low unemployment rate of 2.3 percent cuts the selection pool for many industries, including manufacturing.Panther’s partnership with STEM has already opened new doors for both parties.Because of the internship program’s success, STEM will offer an internship class in the upcoming school year where kids can walk to Panther during school time and receive credit.STEM is also applying for Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools (P-TECH), signed into law in 2015 to create a public-private partnership to prepare Colorado students for high-skill jobs of the future, according to the state department of education. If approved, STEM will partner with Arapahoe Community College and Panther.“This program will provide a future STEM workforce in Highlands Ranch at Panther, aerospace, cybersecurity and high-tech manufacturing positions,” Penny Eucker, executive director of STEM, said in an email correspondence.After completing an additional two years of high school — six years total — students in the P-TECH program earn a high school diploma and an industry-recognized associate degree.Meanwhile, Dow is looking forward to the next set of STEM interns. The work ethic and skill set of the pilot group far exceeded his expectations, he said.“You give them a little bit of direction,” said Dow, “and they run with it.”
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