Beginning next fall, Brown County High School students will be able to gain work experience during class when Eagle Manufacturing opens in the high school’s technology wing.

Students will make products such as key rings, T-shirts, money clips, vinyl signs and decals. The vision is for students to design and create their own products and work with local businesses and community members to make items they need.

“I hope that we can help any student who is in the program prepare themselves for whatever they decide to do after high school,” said engineering and technology teacher Chris Townsend.

“Whether that’s direct to workforce, an apprenticeship, a two-year program, a one-year certificate program, four years, eight years, secondary, it doesn’t really matter. I really hope that it is a program that can benefit any student that goes to Brown County.”

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Eagle Manufacturing will train students in four areas: administration, engineering design, CNC machining and graphics/promotional materials.

CNC machinists will make machine parts, laser and plasma cutting parts. Workers who focus on graphics and promotional material will design products like T-shirts, trophies and other items.

Administration will include jobs like office manager and marketing manager. Engineering design workers will work with 3D modeling to design products.

“I have all sorts of stuff that I could throw at them, and obviously I’ll give my input on it and we’ll have different things, but I want to kind of leave that somewhat up to the students as to things they want to design and manufacture,” Townsend said.

Townsend and industrial technology teacher Dean Keefauver will serve as advisers to the business. They both have visited other schools that have similar student-run manufacturing businesses through the Regional Opportunities Initiative.

The idea to start a student-run business has been in Townsend’s mind since 2016.

For the last two years, Townsend has done a trial run of the business with one student. This year, sophomore Roarke Ireland has been making 3D-printed prototypes for a Columbus company for tooling for robots.

“They designed all of it; it was more we were helping with the manufacturing of the prototypes. But that’s a small example of stuff we can do,” Townsend said.

Local businesses can reach out to Townsend via email with ideas of products they would like made and to see if that would be possible — “kind of smaller jobs that they don’t have the capability of doing, but we can do for them and provide that service and also interact with them,” he told the school board.

This year, Ireland and Townsend have created vinyl decals that can be seen throughout the school and have designed T-shirts for school groups. “It’s fun, making stuff yourself and seeing work that you did actually put into something,” Ireland said.

On Feb. 20, Ireland was in Townsend’s classroom cutting out a yellow Eagle decal using a vinyl cutter. So far, Ireland has taken every engineering course that is available to him and he plans to be involved in Eagle Manufacturing next fall.

He said he looks forward to the student-management aspect of the program and working to complete assignments with other students.

“I think that’s good experience,” he said.

The need is there

Brown County Schools received a $150,000 grant through the ROI Ready Schools Initiative last summer.

The ROI’s occupational needs assessment showed that employers in this region struggle to find workers to fill all levels of jobs and acknowledged that K-12 schools play a significant role in addressing these challenges.

“It just happened to mesh up with ROI really well and kind of took off from there. It was something coming down the pipe anyways, but ROI probably accelerated it a little bit,” Townsend said.

SUPERINTENDENT’S CORNER: About the initiative

In October, Townsend and Brown County Schools ROI coordinator Christy Wrightsman visited Cardinal Manufacturing in Wisconsin, a student-run machine shop that has been in operation for about eight years. Eleva-Strum School District, where Cardinal Manufacturing is located, has a graduating class of 40 kids each year.

Townsend had read about Cardinal Manufacturing five years ago. It was something that kind of popped up again and I thought it would fit our student population really, really well,” he said.

“We have the facilities and the equipment to do this. Some of the facilities had minimal equipment, and yet were still able to do functional things with local businesses,” Keefauver said at the Feb. 1 school board meeting.

“We just feel blessed to know that we have already in place so much of what is needed to make this incredibly successful for the students. I think that’s a huge mark in our favor.”

The school board unanimously voted to approve the engineering courses required to start the business program.

“I think it’s wonderful. I want you guys all to know that you’re changing kids’ lives with this program,” board member Stephanie Kritzer said.

“I think they will be able to look back on it and be appreciative,” vice president Carol Bowden said.

Currently, in the 11-county southwest-central Indiana region, there are more than 27,000 unfilled jobs in defense, life sciences and advanced manufacturing. Most of these companies will pay employees to complete necessary education or certifications.

“There’s opportunities for jobs there. It’s something people in general thought was a dead type industry, which is the exact opposite of it,” Townsend said of manufacturing.

“You talk to anyone in industry … the biggest issues they have are ‘show up on time, be willing to work when you get there, apply yourself, be a problem solver.’ All of those different types of things are what they are begging for, for employees, and that’s what we’re going to emphasize.”

Learning skills

The first goal of Eagle Manufacturing will be for students to learn and apply skills that will prepare them for any path after high school.

“Over and over again, through ROI and some of these other industries we’ve talked with, it’s showing up on time; it’s passing a drug test … being able to communicate, being problem solvers; all those types of things are what we’re focusing around in Eagle Manufacturing,” Townsend said.

The second goal is to have students either obtain and retain a job for at least one year after high school, or complete an apprenticeship, a two-year or four-year degree. “We can kind of figure out what those kids are doing and follow them after that,” Townsend said.

Another goal is for Eagle Manufacturing to become and maintain a self-sustaining and self-funded program.

Bowden asked if there were plans to put students in different scenarios that involve problem solving and teamwork.

“Every day they are going to be coming and applying those employability skills. Then also they are going to be working on projects. They are going to have to be using these problem solving, critical thinking skills on a daily basis without really necessarily any interaction from Dean or I,” Townsend said.

Eagle Manufacturing also will give relevancy to other classes, like math and business — “especially in the example of CNC machining, applying trigonometry and things to actually produce accurate, high-quality parts,” Townsend said.

Students in Barb Kelp’s life skills special education class also will have the opportunity to participate, Townsend said.

“There’s a really good opportunity for us to bring those students in to a business environment, a work environment and have them participate in the manufacturing process, the shipping process, all those different types of things and give them some skills,” Townsend said.

For all students

Eagle Manufacturing will initially be available to juniors and seniors. It is unclear at this time how many students will be able to participate or how long the class periods will be.

“We have a really wide range of students, from those who are going to go on and probably get PhDs at some point, to those who will graduate and go directly into the workforce. This type of program is beneficial to the whole range of students,” Townsend said.

“We’re going to somewhat ease into it. We’re going to hit the ground running for sure, but we’re going to build up our students in it over the time.”

Any student can sign up for the program. Currently there are not any prerequisites required, but students who have taken technology, advanced science, advanced math and computer science classes would be better qualified, Townsend said.

Students will be required to submit a résumé, recommendation letter, portfolio and be interviewed as part of the application process.

“This first year, since we’re starting it in the spring, it’s not going to be as rigorous as it would typically be,” Townsend said.

Townsend said the technology wing is almost equipped to start the manufacturing business, but it will require some rearranging.

They have requested a large printer to print banners, desks and chairs for managers, engineering laptops and laptop storage. The total for all of the needed equipment is around $46,700 based on submitted quotes in the business plan.

Townsend said he was not sure how that equipment will be funded, but grants may be available. Superintendent Laura Hammack said that the equipment could be bought using bond money.

The starting cash balance needed for Eagle Manufacturing is $5,000. “The goal is, and I am very optimistic, that after we have that initial balance we won’t ever have to add money to it again because we’ll be totally self-funded,” Townsend said.

Profits would go back into the lab for updating and maintaining equipment, buying materials and adding capabilities, Townsend said.

Other programs around the country, like Cardinal Manufacturing, make enough to provide students with stipends based on the hours they work.

“That’s something we’re looking at potentially doing in the future, but for at least the first year it’s going to go back into the lab and growing the program,” Townsend said.

The community is also encouraged to get involved with the program by either putting orders in for items, like T-shirts, or for parts that may have broken off of equipment at home. Community members with backgrounds in manufacturing and engineering also can get involved by coming in to talk or mentor students, Townsend said.

Anyone interested in placing orders or coming in to speak with students can email Townsend at

“We’re looking for as many community partners as we can get,” he said.

“Anything that will help build the program and benefit our students in many ways is a big positive.”

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Suzannah Couch grew up in Brown County, reading the Brown County Democrat. A 2013 Franklin College graduate, she covers business, cops/courts, education and arts/entertainment.