Students from Kiski Area Intermediate School took the idiom “learn how the sausage gets made” literally when they filmed a visit to Uncle Charley’s Sausage facility in Vandergrift. Their trip became an entry in Catalyst Connection‘s second annual Explore the New Manufacturing Student Video Contest.

More than 200 students from 22 Pittsburgh area middle schools came together at Heinz Field Wednesday night for the big screen debuts of the videos they produced for the contest. The event included an awards ceremony where teams received recognition in categories such as Best Career Video and Best Marketing Plan. Winners were determined via online voting and a panel of judges.

Also at the event were plenty of parents and teachers, as well as representatives from the 22 manufacturers who worked with the kids on their projects.

Six additional schools in Cambria and Somerset County also made videos for the contest and will host their own awards ceremony in March.

An ExOne employee with students from Greensburg Salem. Photo b Scott Dietz.

An ExOne employee with students from Greensburg Salem Middle School. Photo by Scott Dietz.

Scott Dietz, director of education initiatives at Catalyst Connection, believes the contest serves to expose the students and the general public to opportunities in manufacturing. Each middle school team explored the theme of What’s So Cool About Manufacturing? by filming on location at a manufacturing facility in the region.

The contest generated more than 150,000 online votes in a matter of five days.

“It’s all about planting those seeds of awareness that manufacturing is still a viable career option and showing that we’re doing some really cool stuff here in Pittsburgh,” says Dietz.

Students and teachers were given around $450 worth of camera and editing equipment, as well as a crash course in video production from Point Park University staff.

Some videos took creative approaches to covering their subject matter. In one produced by Freeport Area Middle School, a scripted scene about two girls making coffee results in a trip to the Du-Co Ceramics factory, where they make the parts for Keurig machines. The entry won second place in the Best Manufacturing Message category.

The videos also showed how robotics and 3D printing play a role in the industry, and they covered a wide range of manufacturing professionals, from a food scientist at TruFoodMfg in Lower Burrell to a plastics material lab technician at Covestro.

The idea to use video was inspired by a similar contest launched by the Industrial Resource Center in Lehigh Valley, part of a network across Pennsylvania that supports manufacturers.

Catalyst Connection president and CEO Petra Mitchell said the video contest is part of their mission to create a pipeline of talent into the new manufacturing industry, which requires more specialized workers trained in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. To produce such a workforce, they have to start young.

“In order for them to be prepared for advanced manufacturing jobs they have to start with their high school curriculum,” says Mitchell. “We need to get them on the right path.”

To some extent, the contest will also help address the gender gap present in STEM fields and in manufacturing. Dietz says research shows that the 5th to 7th grade years are a critical age to attract girls into STEM careers. He adds that around 50 percent of the video contest student participants were female.

Girls from Mars Area middle school shoot at Adams Manufacturing. Photo by Scott Dietz.

Girls from Mars Area Middle School shoot at Adams Manufacturing. Photo by Scott Dietz.

Even though the contest focuses on creating a new generation of manufacturing professionals, there’s always the chance that a few future filmmakers will come out of it.

“We had a kid last year who said, ‘I had no idea this stuff was so much fun,’” says Dietz. “Her mom wrote to us and said she’s been looking at what she can do career-wise for video and looking at every course she can take in high school and college.”

See the 2017 Explore the New Manufacturing Student Video Contest winners below:

Best Career Video

Avonworth with Cygnus Manufacturing Company

Best Marketing Plan

1st – Norwin with Intervala

2nd – Mt. Lebanon with Seegrid

Most Creative Award

1st – Moon Township with Industrial Scientific

2nd – Mars with Adams Manufacturing

People’s Choice Award

1st – Burgettstown with Hormann High Performance Doors

2nd – Charleroi with DMI Companies

Best Manufacturing Message

1st – Franklin Regional with Parker Hannifin

2nd – Freeport with Du-Co Ceramics