The PSU Pipeline

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The PSU Pipeline
Feeding the shops
Expanding the pool
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Pittsburg State University's Wood Technology Department is addressing the needs of the woodworking industry by preparing its students to be successful product and process engineers.

With its diverse facility featuring a traditional woodworking shop and state-of-the-art CNC machining center, the department boasts a job placement record of nearly 100 percent over the last decade. And the business of educating tomorrow's woodworkers figures to only get better.

"Right now, the need for wood technology majors greatly exceeds the supply," says John Iley, chairman of the Kansas school's Department of Technology Studies. "The wood industry is looking for people who understand current manufacturing processes, business practices, etc. , We're trying to meet that need."

The department has competed in numerous international design competitions since 1998, with impressive results. But the emphasis of the program is not design. It is to teach students the production aspect — getting from paper to the finished product.

"We're not turning out the designers for the wood industry," says Iley. "We're turning out people who understand CAD, CAM, production control — that's where there's a void." About 95 percent of the wood technology students at PSU are enrolled in the four-year program; the others are in the two-year associate of applied science program, which covers shop floor and business fundamentals.

All the elements
When prioritizing in the woodworking manufacturing industry, everything starts with economics. In order to produce a product economically, you have to mass produce it, and to do that, you have to know how to select the right tools and the right equipment, the right materials and employees for the job. PSU's program curriculum covers all of those elements.

Students will learn engineering technology, theory, logic, and leadership and business skills to make them more versatile. Wood science is the first stop. Here, students study wood anatomy, paying particular attention to wood and moisture relationships.

Courses that follow cover wood processing, machine woodworking, production techniques, construction methods and materials, finishing, facility maintenance and management, furniture manufacturing, and millwork and casework. Students are trained to use AutoCAD, Cabinet Vision SOLID, Chief Architect, Microvellum and MasterCAM software. After two years of study, students are required to take a 10-week internship, earning pay and college credit.

"Companies from all over the U.S. want students — not only graduates, but interns," says associate professor David Miles. "It's a win-win situation for both parties. The company gets to try out employees and the students get to try out the company. More often than not, the companies will offer that intern a position after graduation."

Feeding the shops
Most PSU graduates take jobs in the architectural millwork field. Many start out as assistant project managers or as project and design engineers at smaller companies. The school has become an employee pipeline to several commercial millwork shops within a three-hour drive of the campus — an area that includes the cities of Tulsa, Okla., and Wichita, Kan.