By Shannon Carr
Board Support & Communications Specialist
Students at Calaveras Hills High School spent four-and-a-half weeks engineering endless possibilities for their future through FlexFactor, a four-week entrepreneurship program offered by NextFlex, America’s Flexible Hybrid Electronics Manufacturing Institute.
“NextFlex is in the business of facilitating and enabling the advanced manufacturing sector and one component of that is workforce development,” said Emily McGrath, Deputy Director for Workforce Development, Education, and Training with NextFlex. “So what we’re doing is looking at the advanced manufacturing sector and predicting what their workforce development needs are or what their workforce will be and creating a pipeline that will meet those needs, and that starts in high school. Exposing high school students to education and career pathways that they wouldn’t necessarily know about otherwise.”
The project -- offered to students in Sridaya Mandyam-Komar’s “Intro to Engineering” classes -- was done in collaboration with the City of Milpitas, Evergreen Valley College, and Flex (previously Flextronics).
"It has been an amazing experience for our students at Cal Hills,” Sridaya said. “We are a continuation school, an alternative school. Many times, our students are focused on recovering credits that they need and miss out on the extra opportunities."
Students kicked off their experience on February 9 with a tour of the manufacturing facility at Flex, where they had the opportunity to touch and feel the cutting edge, wearable, flexible electronic products. During the second half of the day, students received their project assignment at NextFlex. There, student teams brainstormed their ideas for a health monitoring product they were asked to develop and conceptualize in the weeks that followed.
On February 15, the project took another momentous step, when the students experienced college. Evergreen Valley College was generous in opening their doors, having students receive a lecture and tour of the state-of-the-art automotive tech program and receive their first in a series of lectures from Cecil Lawson, who visited Cal Hills in the following weeks to teach them about Entrepreneurship. Dean Lena Tran gave the students an informative presentation about financial aid and what the college offers.
Students were also partnered with mentors from Flex as another layer of depth during the course of the project.
Sridaya shared her gratitude for the many opportunities the students have gained as a result of FlexFactor.
"It is all about exposure to what’s out there, being able to gain confidence as an entrepreneur, being able to say, ‘No matter what I pursue, I know how to position myself as the value proposition,’ and being in touch with real-world technology right now,” she said. “Those are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for our students.”
The culminating event of the project was held on Thursday (March 16), when student groups delivered nine powerful “Final Pitch” presentations for their project to a packed Board Room including their peers, Superintendent Cheryl Jordan, Board President Dan Bobay, Board Member Robert Jung, Vice Mayor Marsha Grilli, Milpitas Economic Director Edesa Bitbadal, Milpitas Economic Development Specialist Daniel Degu, Cal Hills Principal Carl Stice, and Assistant Principal Karisa Scott. Following each presentation, staff from NextFlex provided feedback and asked questions for the students to consider in further developing their product.
Among the projects shared that day was Frost, clothing that would incorporate patches of cooling technology to prevent heat strokes and reduce stress; Maternity Pants, pants that would monitor pregnancy and alert expecting women about possible complications; Epi-patch, an adhesive, needle-free alternative to the Epi-pen; and Alz Glasses, a two-product design including a patch that pairs with an optical headset (glasses), which would allow people with Alzheimers to receive meal and medication reminders, facial recognition, and become stable during the distress that often arises with the medical condition.
Superintendent Jordan shared final remarks at the March 16 event, to not only thank the many people who brought the partnership to life but particularly acknowledge the students involved in the experience.
“I was so excited when Brynt Parmeter from NextFlex spoke to myself and former Mayor Esteves about this potential project that they had just completed for the first time with Lincoln High School,” she recalled. “I rushed right over to Mr. Stice because I knew that our Cal Hills’ kids were the perfect group of kids for this project. Because each one of you is somebody with great potential and I want you to see that in yourselves, and I think that going through this for the last month, you probably do. … Because you aren’t in a box just because you’re at Cal Hills; you’re at a place of opportunity. And you have a community of people that believes in each one of you, and we want you to succeed and to realize your dreams. Look at this as an opening of what your future can be.”