At first, Daven Morgan was in it for the money.
The 16-year-old Acadiana High junior was one of 230 Lafayette Parish students selected for an opportunity to earn cash, school credit and an industry credential through the school system’s Jump Start Summers program. The program is part of a statewide summer career and technical education initiative first piloted in 2017.
Students in the program, which wrapped up on Friday, spent four weeks learning and working at the W.D. and Mary Baker Smith Career Center and other campuses for $7.50 an hour. The students worked about 80 hours for the month, earning a starting stipend of $600, career and technical education director Larry Alexander said.
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Bonuses were available for perfect attendance, off-site visits to businesses and passing certification tests, for potential total earnings of just over $1,000, he said.
Morgan signed up to take the program’s robotics class, learning how to build, program and fly drones alongside a group of roughly 20 other Lafayette students. He said the money was a nice bonus while gaining valuable career experience and exercising his problem-solving skills.
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A member of Acadiana High’s robotics team, Morgan said the summer program further illustrated the vast applications of the growing field. Drones are used in surveying, construction and oil field inspections, cutting tasks that could take weeks down to days, he said.
Morgan earned his drone pilot’s license after his certification test at the Lafayette Regional Airport, which he sees as an important step to access future career opportunities. Passing was also a confidence booster.
“I got my flight license before my driver’s license, which is interesting,” Morgan said.
Over the four weeks, the students learned about flight principles, piloting rules, air zones, drone operation, programming, drone design and assembly. Teams built drones from kits and practiced operating them in the robotics arena at the career center.
“I didn’t realize there was so much work that went into making the drones fly,” Morgan said.
The teenager’s team learned how difficult it was as they worked to recalibrate their drone to achieve balanced flight. Despite following the directions of their instructor, the drone continued to flip over each time it began to pick up off the ground.
The group settled into an upstairs laboratory on the campus and hooked the drone to a computer system, analyzing different metrics as they tried to determine what was grounding the machine. Morgan said he enjoyed coming up with a plans to fix the problem.
“If you’re on the job and something goes wrong you have to find a way to fix it, or you’re in trouble. You have to be able to problem solve and make it work,” Morgan said.
For the teenager, the summer’s problem-solving opportunities extended beyond the drone. The junior is beginning to consider his next steps after high school and said Jump Start Summers helped him learn more about what he enjoys and what potential career paths are available to him.
Morgan's considering attending technical school for either carpentry or welding but hasn't yet settled on a career choice. Whatever he decides, the 16-year-old said, he wants to enjoy his work.
While Morgan assisted on his team’s drone, other students took courses in entrepreneurship, web programming, industrial scaffolding, welding, manufacturing, digital media, automotive technology and NCCER Core, a construction safety fundamentals course.
Alexandra Babineaux was the only girl in the automotive technology class.
The 17-year-old junior from E.J. Sam Accelerated School took apart the brake system on her 2003 Chevrolet Trailblazer during class Tuesday, hands coated in grease as she assessed her wobbly back passenger wheel.
Babineaux said the course was eye-opening and a confidence builder for her, adding that she feels more comfortable traveling in her aging vehicle now that she has the skills to handle any problems the road may throw at her.
“I enjoy working on my own car a lot because it gives me something that I’m familiar with and can say, ‘This is how it normally is, this is what I normally hear’ and I can know this is what’s typically wrong with it,” she said.
The teen and her classmates learned how to check vehicle fluids, change tires, take apart brake systems, safely and correctly maneuver a vehicle on a lift, and learned the mechanics behind steering and suspension systems, among other topics. Much of the work they did was on their own vehicles.
The team was guided by Jack Shinhoster, a retired educator who has taught at the career center for 31 years of his 40-year career. Shinhoster has worked on cars for most of his adult life. He got his start working on a 1966 Ford Mustang he bought when he enrolled at Grambling State University for college.
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Babineaux said she plans to continue her education through mentors like Shinhoster, but also by problem-solving on her own vehicle when issues arise.
“I think I’ll continue learning through personal experience. Personal experience is the biggest thing I keep hearing a lot of people say, and with how old that truck is, I’ll get plenty of personal experience,” Babineaux said.
Aside from her newfound automotive knowledge, the 17-year-old is also walking away from the summer with new friends and greater self-confidence.
Babineaux, 17, found her ability to speak up was a strength in the noisy campus mechanics shop. Her voice easily traveled over the sound of whirring fans and equipment as she coordinated the hand-offs of tools and issued safety warnings.
She also demonstrated an ability to loosen stubborn bolts the other students couldn’t seem to manage.
“I’ve learned that I’m stronger than I think I am,” Babineaux said.