Donald Harmuth graduated from South Fayette High School this past spring and is building on the training he got at the Manufacturing Assistance Center in Homewood to pursue a degree in Engineering Physics at Westminster College this fall.
“I was surprised by what we could do with the equipment we had. I was always extremely resourceful, but the capability of the machines is amazing when fully understood,” he says.
“The most important thing I learned is not a technical or ‘hard skill’ but a soft one. It is resilience; anything can be done if you try,” says Harmuth.
In May, the University of Pittsburgh’s Manufacturing Assistance Center (MAC) celebrated one year at its new location in Homewood.
The center, which shares equipment and space with several other companies in a refurbished warehouse on Susquehanna Street, provides training in advanced manufacturing techniques for budding engineers and others in the East End and beyond.
MAC is just one project in a larger effort by the University of Pittsburgh to move more facilities and resources into underserved neighborhoods bordering Oakland.
According to Claire Guth, the center’s community outreach coordinator, MAC has graduated more than 50 students since moving to the Homewood location, with many more set to matriculate over the coming weeks.
Enrollees have ranged from recent high school graduates to two workers in their late 60s looking for new skills.
“Our job placement rate is around 95 percent,” she says. “A lot of students get jobs before they graduate. Most of them get jobs within two weeks.”
Wadjet Mentuhotep finished his course at MAC this past May. An engineer for several years before coming to MAC, Mentuhotep grew up in Homewood hungry to learn about science and technology.
“I was always wanted to know about [engineering] … but there was no information available for us growing up.”
Mentuhotep says he learned as an adult that the problem went far beyond his own Homewood. Black communities in Pittsburgh and around the nation have traditionally been excluded from the manufacturing industry, especially from more advanced skills and vocations.
In addition to his own work as an urban farming engineer, Wadjet also manages his own local advocacy group, the Engineering Impact Initiative, which is focused on getting young minority students into science and technology courses and preparing them for training like MAC.
“The diversity of our students is probably our largest point of pride,” says Guth. “This is a perfect example of the success that can happen when [universities] invest in a community.”
The Manufacturing Assistance Center first started in 1994 at a facility in Harmarville. While the core mission has stayed the same, the curriculum has changed quite a bit over the last several decades as automation and new technologies have remade traditional manufacturing.
At the 7800 Susquehanna Street location, students do hands-on work with machines while also learning programming and computer-aided design.
“Really our goal with this program is to upskill the existing workforce … to combat generation poverty,” she says.