Kohler offers student STEM tours

How does a company like Kohler Co. make sure toilets flush properly and faucets can be easily maneuvered?

Sheboygan-area students can find out with a program the company is offering to eighth graders, who tour the company’s Kohler manufacturing facility to learn about careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

On each tour, about 70 Kohler employees demonstrate how they use STEM skills to do their jobs, from testing how chemicals impact porcelain fixtures to forging iron. They also explain the educational journey they took to achieve their career goals.

Students tour the packaging and engineering area, observe rapid prototyping in the model shop, flush toilets in the product testing lab, solve a math problem at a kitchen faucet exhibit and learn about heavy machinery and robotics at the foundry.

Kohler began offering the STEM tours in May and has led 1,200 students through the company’s large manufacturing facility so far, said Cynthia Bachmann, vice president-fixtures engineering, Kitchen and Bath Americas.

“I have a workforce that is really interested in reaching out, particularly, and sharing what they do,” she said. “Even though Kohler’s been here 140 years, it’s still very much a mystery to the community.”

The goal is to reach all 1,400 eighth graders in Sheboygan County with the tours, Bachmann said. Before they attend, students work on Kohler’s pre-tour curriculum to prepare for the lessons on the tour.

“We felt that high school was kind of too late,” she said. “We wanted to catch eighth graders before they had (a career) set in their mind.”

Following a tour of the manufacturing operations, students visit a STEM career fair in the lobby, with representatives from local universities and robotics demonstrations available to the students.

Kohler employees also mentor some of the students who are interested in pursuing STEM careers, she said.

Kohler offers the STEM tours as a form of community stewardship, but also to develop a future workforce with the skills needed to manufacture its products, Bachmann said.

“Part of my job is to make sure we have sustainable capabilities going into the future,” she said. “We need a lot of skilled, trained technicians that are comfortable with sophisticated machinery.”

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