By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Rutherford County Schools
Eighth-graders at Smyrna Middle School had a firsthand opportunity to experience the future of automobiles.
This past Friday, 288 students took part in the Nissan Career Fair.
Dan Caldwell, a senior manager of training for Nissan U.S. manufacturing plants, opened the fair by screening a video of an autonomous car. Afterward he told the group that Nissan plans to release a limited version in 2020 and then follow up with a fully autonomous car in 2022.
This group of eighth graders will not graduate high school until 2023.
“That’s so exciting,” Caldwell said, “because some of the careers they’re going to step into haven’t been defined yet. One of our goals today is to not only show them careers that exist, but the competency.”
These students from Smyrna and other eighth-graders from throughout Rutherford County will one day be given jobs and tasks that Caldwell said, “We really can’t envision.”
Friday’s career fair was the third step in a three-part educational experience that began with an externship during the summer break.
Last summer, the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce sponsored the first ever externship program for eighth-grade teachers and administrators. Three teachers and two administrators from Smyrna Middle spent two weeks at Nissan.
“They rotated around and worked with various different functions within the plant to learn what we do,” Caldwell said, “and the various potential careers out there for their students.”
One of the teachers, Gina Wray, was excited to implement new lessons in her physics class after seeing how the maintenance department uses ultrasonic technology and thermal imaging.
“The experience was very enlightening,” Wray said.
The externship helped Wray to better understand the details of the jobs involved with the maintenance department, but her biggest takeaway was the importance of teaching students soft skills.
“These companies are opening their doors to our students and allow them in,” Wray said, “and now teachers – they’re allowing us in – to work together to keep producing a good workforce.”
The externships were followed by a Nissan plant tour for all the eighth-graders from Smyrna Middle.
The Nissan career fair was the culmination of the months-long project and an opportunity to create career awareness.
“Eighth grade is pivotal because students select a focus area for high school,” Caldwell said. “Eighth-graders of today know so much more than the eighth-graders of our generation.”
Caldwell said the entire externship project is an effort to “help kids make a qualified, well-informed decision.”
And that is exactly what Cody Wade liked about the October tour and Friday’s visit from Nissan.
Wade is an eighth-grader at Smyrna Middle and plans to pursue a career in car restoration.
“I feel like it’s a good experience not just for me, but the other students to what they actually have as a career choice,” Wade said.
While Nissan is looking ahead to the future of automobiles and hoping to entice a student who might go on to engineer the first car without wheels, Wade has been fixated on restoring a 1953 Studebaker Champion.
“I really like old cars,” said Wade, who was very engaged and asked multiple questions during each of the different panels he attended with classmates. “I think this will help me in deciding whether I want to do it or not.”
Students spent 30 minutes in each of the four panels they attended. From finance to supply chain management and predictive maintenance, students also learned about systems and equipment engineering, quality control, human resources, safety and, of course, automation.
Classic cars aside, Wade added, “Nissan is a really good career choice.”
PHOTOS / KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT