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Drake State connects students to five manufacturing companies, like Mazda Toyota.

Drake State Community College connects students with industry through its CSI Program. CSI stands for 'connecting students with industry.'

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Five advanced manufacturing companies have selected 14 Drake State students to participate in the CSI (Connecting Students with Industry) Advanced Industrial Maintenance (AIM) Program. 

Boeing, GE Appliances, Mazda Toyota Manufacturing, Toyota Alabama Inc., and LSINC interviewed students and selected this top group who will work for the companies while pursuing a two-year technical associate degree.

"During the pandemic, I was actually pretty nervous about what was moving forward in the future. And so I decided to go back and be a student. And it was a very humbling experience, but I felt it important to actually get back involved because I had questions about what I was going to do further in the future," said Drake State CSI Program Student, Runzell Edwards. 

In the midst of uncertainty, Drake's CSI Program was able to provide some guidance.

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"It took a lot of weight off my shoulders honestly, as a student, you know, you're still stressing at the end of it, 'like where am I really going to work at? What am I going to do?' And with the CSI program, it actually helped us get right in to it. It was like having a guide walk you through, to let you know that, 'hey, this is a great opportunity,'" said Edwards. 

Edwards signed with Mazda Toyota and will now be able to work there while pursuing a two-year technical associates degree.

Speaking of Mazda Toyota, a current employee there, also walked a similar path.

"I was actually working for a company as an engineering intern and I think it just stuck with me that school didn't click until I worked for the company and I realized I'm reading this in the book. I can actually do it at work and made me understand how it fit together and it helped me," said Skilled Human Resource Developer with Mazda Toyota Manufacturing, Scott Russo.

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Beyond helping manufacturers retain the workforce, connecting students with industry helps further develop everyone involved.

The student benefits from the experience, but so does the industry as a whole.

"They're coming in to learn and all these new skills, and they're told they have to work with the mentor and their mentor has to show him how to do things, matching school. Our mentors haven't done that in years! So, it's like a competition. They've got to improve their skills so they can teach the students, so it's a side benefit, but it really improves our whole workforce," said Russo.

This CSI cohort is for students seeking a degree in industrial maintenance, also known as mechatronics. Industrial Maintenance focuses on problem-solving; students learn how to repair machinery and equipment, make sure that things are working well, as well as analyze the processes and problems when things go wrong.

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