Mary Elisabeth Keller set foot into the Seymour Community Center on Saturday morning not to attend a meeting or community event but to purchase something to help support a class at Seymour High School.
As Keller looked through a retail tower of items, Dylan Rigdon, president of Owl Manufacturing at Seymour High School, greeted her and told her all she needed to know about each item that was on display.
“I read they were going to be here, so I thought I’d stop in and support them,” Keller said before making a selection.
Keller and other customers had plenty to choose from, as the group has developed three-dimensional custom-made Sammy the Owl prints, decals, commemorative mugs and replica models of the high school’s clock tower, the Community Drive underpass, the Blish Mill silos and Jackson County Visitor Center freight depot.
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The store, a collaboration with Seymour Main Street, also featured ornaments made by art students, plants offered by agriculture students and jewelry made by family and consumer science students.
Owl Manufacturing is an advanced manufacturing class the high school offers with a curriculum focusing upon what students can produce. All of the items are designed, developed and manufactured by 17 students during the class.
The items are unique because Rigdon and his classmates had a hand in the process of making each, from design to development to packaging and placing in a retail floor space.
The class uses a three-dimensional printer to produce the items and this year can produce more because of having four printers instead of one. The class also has a single-color vinyl cutter and a multicolored vinyl cutter that allows them to produce the stickers, decals and banners.
Students come up with an idea, design it and begin the manufacturing process after approval from class advisers, Jeremy Wischmeier and Curt Schleibaum.
“We see if they like it and if it’s good enough or if it will print well,” Rigdon said.
After a check of the item, they will do a test print of one unit to see how it turns out and make adjustments.
“Usually, if we have a print, they turn out all right, but sometimes, there are glitches you don’t see, so we will have to go back and redesign it,” Rigdon said.
Wischmeier and Schleibaum have structured the class in a way that represents a manufacturing plant. The class begins with a team meeting to discuss what students will be working on and a flow chart of each project and its status is shown to students.
“There will be ones from a pitched idea to whether it’s been quoted, manufactured and invoiced,” Wischmeier said. “We have the whole process where we can follow through, and each class starts with that meeting.”
After the meeting, the class identifies priorities and what students should be working before splitting into groups and the work begins with the class producing more units with quality control in mind. They area are packaging them for sale.
While the process sounds like it takes awhile, Rigdon said the class can produce items quicker than many would think.
“Like the Owls that we made, I think it took us about three days to do that,” he said.
Rigdon and the other students use the hour and a half each day to work on the projects, and most of the students come in throughout the day to work on the products to produce them quicker.
The class has built a stock of inventory, so setting up a store at the community center brings the process to completion as they can sell the items in a retail environment.
On Dec. 2, the class will return and sell Christmas-themed items.
“We don’t have everything down on what we want to sell, but maybe a Santa owl,” Rigdon said. “All the money we make goes back into our program.”
The class has taught Rigdon a lot about entrepreneurship, something he has an interested in at some point after he finishes his education.
“That’s something I want to do, but I first want to work at a company in maintenance because above all else, I like to work with my hands,” he said. “I don’t know what business I want to start, but I know it’s something I want to do.”
New to the classroom is a laser engraver, which provides the class with even more opportunities to create a number of items. The class produced mugs with a Seymour High School logo on them as the first product to offer from the new piece of equipment.
“We got that at the beginning of this year through a grant from last year,” Rigdon said. “It’s pretty good to have something like that for our second year.”
The class has produced banners for local businesses and clubs and the school.
“A company in California was going to a technology conference in Canada and needed stickers for their name,” Schleibaum said. “They had a tight time window for when they needed them, and we were able to produce them and get them to them in their time frame.”
One of Rigdon’s favorite parts about the class is seeing new students learn all of the processes of producing an item at the school. The class only had six returning students, so the majority are having their first exposure to this environment.
“For me, it’s been cool to see the new kids come in this year, and the year isn’t half over, and they know about everything they need to know,” he said. “It’s really cool to see them adapt and learn something new because it’s not a normal class.”
Wischmeier said the class has grown more than he thought, and it has generated a buzz among the school.
“The students are getting the word out, and other students are seeing the products popping up,” Wischmeier said.
The class has reversed the stigma that manufacturing is a job where workers leave a factory dirty at the end of the day.
“They’re showing other students that manufacturing isn’t a dirty job that no one wants to do, but that there’s a whole different side of manufacturing and that it’s not what it was 40 or 50 years ago,” he said.
Rigdon also has grown a lot throughout the last year in terms of understanding how the class and production can improve.
“Last year, we learned we can’t just come in for that hour and a half,” Rigdon said with a laugh. “We want to make things right, and we learned how careful we have to be with equipment and make sure we get the proper training before using equipment. We really learn a lot about quality control since we’re making so many things.”
One thing important to Rigdon is the focus on teamwork.
“We have to work well together because we all have important steps in our processes at Owl Manufacturing,” he said.
Wischmeier and Schleibaum want the students to attain a set of life skills that benefit them later on.
The students have produced items for businesses, which has required multiple meetings with representatives and school faculty, and they have attained better interpersonal skills.
“When I was in school, I was nervous as all get-out if I had to talk to the principal,” Wischmeier said. “It’s the life skills they’re learning that I can’t give them a grade on that they’re gaining and what will be important later on and make them a productive member of society.”
Those skills add up to potential employers, Wischmeier said. The class has an advisory committee that includes local manufacturers, and Wischmeier said they have commented on how those skills are important for students to land a job.
Schleibaum said students already are getting those opportunities through internships, summer jobs and after-school work programs.
“We’ve had several students in these first 10 weeks get hired on by local companies,” Schleibaum said. “Our local manufacturers have been really supportive.”
Ways to purchase from Owl Manufacturing:
Items for sale from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec. 2 at the Seymour Community Center, 107 S. Chestnut St.
Purchase online at shsowlmfg.com
Call Seymour High School at 812-522-4384 to submit an order