Precision Machining Changes due to COVID-19

A student in the Precision Machining program uses a machine while wearing a mask.

Mattigan Riley

A student in the Precision Machining program uses a machine while wearing a mask.

Mattigan Riley, Guest Writer

VU’s precision machining is one of the college’s many hands-on programs, and like many, it took a hard turn last March when all classes went online. 

“It’s unfortunate, in my opinion. Corona virus has caused a shift in education, not just the machining program,” said Professor Louis Sipes, an instructor of both the first and second year machining programs.   

Precision machining is a manufacturing process involving the process of raw metals and materials into finished piece parts, and many students felt that machining online was not ideal. The program, founded in 1964, has never faced a challenge this great.

“It was a little harder without face to face. The instructors weren’t right there ready to help, even though you could email them. One good thing is it left me time to go back to work,” said Kyle Probus, a second year student in the machining program from Newburgh.

Probus wasn’t the only student feeling the effects of a hands-on program being transitioned online. 

“I feel like we didn’t get the full experience the same as previous years. We had less experience in mold and die, which will make this year difficult. It was all forced though, no one had much of a choice. It sucked, but I understand why they had to do it,” said Austin Balcerak, a second year student in the machining program from Valparasio.

One common theme mentioned by the students was appreciation toward the hard working instructors.

“I think my professors are doing everything they can to keep us on track and make sure we stay in class for the remainder of the semester,” said Issac Sum, a second year student in the machining program from Washington Township.

Even with the students feeling pressure because of last semester, the instructors have said that with a little more review than in previous years, many students catch up quickly and they see no drop in performance compared to previous years. A lot of students came back to just needing the in person experience to catch back up.

“I feel like I am almost all the way caught up now and there is not much VU can do because most of what I’m doing just comes with experience on the software. I received a lot of hands-on education for CNC machines at work,” said Josh Bencie, a CNC (Computer Numerical Code) summer program student from Morgan Township. 

When discussing another section of the machining program, the summer CNC program, with Professor V, he explained how Corona virus has affected the once eight week program that is now running from July to December. 

“It did affect our numbers, we started at 29 students, after the new schedule was sent out it dropped down to 20. It’s affected how far we were able to go and where we can start now. It changed the layouts and the time to complete all the benchmarks,” said Professor Jonathan Vennard who has been teaching CNC programing for over five years. 

Looking forward, students have started seeing an upturn in the past couple weeks of class, and they seem to have a more positive outlook on the rest of the semester.

“Overall I feel that the semester is going pretty well. The transition to the new style of distance learning has been a challenge for everyone though. I think the machining program has handled Corona to the best of their ability considering in class learning is a must for our field of learning,” said Jay Edwards, a second year student in the machining program from Valparaiso.

Another problem students have run into is project experience. Last semester was divided up between two projects, a die and a mold, but because of Covid, students were only able to finish one of the two projects. This year, each semester gets to do a bigger die or a mold, and vice versa the next. Some students are starting with the same based project as they got to last semester, and are worried about not getting enough experience in the opposite project.

“This semester has gone surprisingly smooth despite COVID. I feel like I am caught up, but at a slight disadvantage because I did a mold last semester and am doing another mold this semester, rather than a die. But, I think we will be able to finish this semester and learn the material,” said Dylan VanNostran,  a second year student in the machining program from Chesterton.

Despite all the struggles in the classroom and the lab, many students feel like the transition was as smooth as it could be and they’re happy to be back working in person. There has only been one complaint, but it’s shared by most.

“It sucks having to wear a mask and safety glasses,” said Andy Fortner, a first year student in the machining program from Indianapolis.