$12,000 grant expands options for C4 students

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Students interested in machining and computer numeric control fields at Connect Four in Berryville will have a shot at getting a boost as they start their careers thanks to a $12,000 grant the program received last month from the Gene Haas Foundation.

“We’re going to be able to use that to give some grant money to some students that might be going to school or something like that to learn more about how to write code and CNC programs,” said Connect 4 director James Knight. “We can get them some tooling and some tools to go along with it, anything that can further their venture into getting into this CNC programming.”

The four-year-old Connect Four program — or C4 — offers junior and senior students from the Berryville, Eureka Springs and Green Forest school districts the opportunity to pursue a technical education during the school day. The program is housed in the Carroll County Career Center, formerly the Berryville Readiness Center, and offers instruction in a number of disciplines with an eye toward industrial maintenance, machining, welding, robotics and electrical work, providing students with a cross-curricular background in different trades.

The Gene Haas Foundation was established in 1999 by Gene Haas, founder and owner of Haas Automation Inc., to support the needs of the local community through grants to local charities.

After seeing a growing need for skilled manufacturing employees industrywide, the foundation expanded its mission to include support for manufacturing training programs like C4.

Knight explained the grant money could be used by C4 in a variety of ways as long as that use pertains to the CNC/machining field.

“CNC building machines and CNC lathes are the same stuff they use out at Wilson Combat and Nighthawk,” Knight said, naming two of C4’s local corporate sponsors. “The only thing we can’t use [the grant money] for is, we cannot buy any Haas equipment. If we need to get some software, or whatever we need to do with it to further the education that we offer on the CNC stuff, we can use it for that and giving out some grant money to students that might be going to school [to learn more about it.]”

Knight said C4’s plans for the grant money are a natural extension of a program introduced last year, in which financially disadvantaged students can receive a bit of financial aid as they gain real-world work experience and earn a paycheck while still attending school.

That program, part of a publicly funded workforce system operated by the Arkansas Workforce Development Board and funded by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, is designed to increase access and opportunities for the employment, education, training and support services that individuals need to succeed in the labor market.

That is a difficulty the Haas grant is specifically designed to address.

According to a statement from the foundation, “expanding the pool of skilled workers hinges on recruiting more young people to pursue careers in manufacturing, and creating state-of-the-art advanced manufacturing training programs to ensure that graduating students have the skills necessary when they enter the workforce.”

That, Knight said, matches exactly with C4’s mission and will give students a better chance to expand their training. Knight said his C4 students are already getting basic training in CNC operation, but that the grant will enable the program to greatly expand on that.

“We’re doing an introduction on how to navigate the controls — like an operator certification — and a lot of safety protocols, a lot of how to load tools, how to load a program,” Knight said. “We don’t go over how to program or anything like that. We don’t have time to go into the engineering and how to draw it and all that stuff.

“This grant money will help when we need some tooling and then some programming and maybe bring in some specialized trainers and things to that extent.”

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