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Fresh From Silicon Valley: Advanced Manufacturing Career Program Takes Off in Ohio

FlexFactor Goes from Silicon Valley to Lake Erie’s Shores as Region Develops STEM Career Pathways

ELYRIA, Ohio–After decades of reliance on traditional, heavy manufacturing and steel, a progressive Ohio state community college, Lorain County Community College (LCCC), is preparing the next-generation workforce for the incredible advancements in manufacturing through a technology and entrepreneurship program called FlexFactor®. Developed by NextFlex, America’s Flexible Hybrid Electronics Manufacturing Institute, FlexFactor is designed to engage students with industry, technology, and the education and career pathways that lead into the tech sector.

Working with LCCC, 13 students at Lorain County Early College High School successfully piloted the first local iteration, building on the successes of over 2,000 students in Silicon Valley where FlexFactor was developed. Over the course of the program, students gained hands-on experience applying cutting-edge flexible electronics to real-world problems, and acquired industry exposure to kickstart their career paths by visiting two local companies, Blue Spark Technologies and TRG, to see how advanced technologies are being used today. Students also engaged with regional economic development experts at Team Northeast Ohio, who provided insights and professional networking opportunities to help students connect their FlexFactor experience to the growing opportunities with local companies driving new technology adoption.

NextFlex’s collaboration with LCCC marks the first step in the national expansion of FlexFactor where the program acts as a connecting agent between students, schools and industry. “We look forward to continuing the expansion of this inspirational program in innovative regions around the country,” said Emily McGrath, deputy director of Workforce Development at NextFlex. During the multi-week program, students worked in small teams to select a real-world problem, conceptualize a hardware device to address it and build a business model around the product. They also became familiar with the education pathways that can lead into this sector through exposure to various STEM-based degree programs offered by LCCC, such as the new applied bachelor’s degree in microelectronic manufacturing. At the end of the program, teams pitched their product ideas “Shark Tank-style” to a panel of industry mentors and educators.

Ninth grade student Jasmin Morales explained, “FlexFactor challenged me to learn in a different way by helping me think outside of the box. I learned that I can come up with an idea or solution that I would’ve never thought of before.”

“We love seeing how this program encourages young people to consider how new technology can solve important social and health challenges. We’re excited for what lies ahead as we partner with additional schools and employers locally to bring FlexFactor to more students, helping them see the opportunity for their own career in our region’s growing innovation economy,” said LCCC President Marcia J. Ballinger, Ph.D.

FlexFactor’s project-based approach provides an ideal platform to capture the students’ excitement and creativity and foster a mindset that inspires them to innovate and take risks, while encouraging a passion for STEM and teaching important business and communication concepts. By showcasing the vibrancy and reach of modern manufacturing to a wide range of students, FlexFactor catalyzes an important group of future industry leaders, especially young women and other underrepresented populations.

“FlexFactor provided an exceptional hands-on learning experience, affording students opportunities that meet wide-ranging educational standards for academic, career and personal/social development. While gaining a broader understanding of modern manufacturing and technology career pathways, students learn the value of teamwork, employ their creativity, and hone their research and presentation skills as they develop solutions to real world problems, connecting the classroom to the broader community. The educational value of FlexFactor is evident,” said Early College High School Instructor Jamie Bush.

“The students and the entire team at the Early College High School, Lorain County Community College and the industry partners hit a huge home run,” said Brynt Parmeter, the director of Workforce Development for NextFlex who flew to Ohio from California to witness the final pitches first hand. “It was so inspirational to see what these students were able to accomplish during their inaugural FlexFactor event in Ohio. Our future is in good hands.”

This program was launched in the Lorain County Community College region by a generous gift from the LifeShare Fund of the Lorain County Community College Foundation. These funds foster innovation that improves the health, wellness and quality of life for those in the NE Ohio community and provides a better future for the students taking part in the FlexFactor initiative.

About NextFlex

NextFlex®, America’s Flexible Hybrid Electronics Manufacturing Institute, is a leading force in the Manufacturing USA network of Institutes. Formed through a cooperative agreement between the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and FlexTech Alliance, NextFlex is a consortium of companies, academic institutions, non-profits and state, local and federal governments with a shared goal of advancing U.S. manufacturing of FHE. Since its formation in 2015, NextFlex’s elite team of thought leaders, educators, problem solvers and manufacturers have come together to collectively facilitate innovation, narrow the manufacturing workforce gap and promote sustainable manufacturing ecosystems.

About Lorain County Community College

Established in 1963, Lorain County Community College is located approximately 30 miles west of Cleveland, Ohio, and is the first community college in Ohio with a permanent campus. LCCC is an innovative leader serving the education, economic, community and cultural needs of Lorain County and the region. Lorain County Community College offers a progressive, diverse educational environment serving more than 12,000 associate degree students per year and offering more than 100 academic programs and majors. LCCC has emerged as an innovator in higher education through the success of its University Partnership — the first of its kind at an Ohio community college — where more than 3,000 students are able to pursue more than 50 bachelor’s and master’s degrees from 14 of Ohio’s leading universities on LCCC’s campus at about a third of the cost. Lorain County Community College is deeply committed to student success and is part of Completion-By-Design Initiative of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.