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Clinton High School senior at forefront of pioneering apprenticeship program

Monday, November 30, 2020 | 08:00am

By Bob Fowler
Roane State staff writer

CLINTON, Tenn. – A Clinton High School student is at the forefront of a pioneering effort to enable those under the age of 18 to become apprentices in manufacturing facilities.

Since September, Chyann Wilson, 17, has been working at SL Tennessee, a company that makes vehicle parts in the Clinton/Interstate 75 Industrial Park.

She’s a Middle College student at Roane State in her second year of the mechatronics program. Mechatronics is the combination of mechanical engineering, computing, and electronics.

“Chyann is the only girl in her class, but she’s proof that mechatronics doesn’t have to be a male-dominated field,” said Kim Harris, the college’s director of workforce training and placement. “STEM-focused education and programs like this one are helping make these careers more visible and accessible to everyone.”

In the fall of 2019, Chyann was in her first semester of the mechatronics program and had expressed an interest in being an SL Tennessee apprentice. The community college teamed up with the state of Tennessee and SL Tennessee to make that happen.

At the time, apprenticeships weren’t available to those less than 18 years of age. Harris said she worked with Tyra Copas, the state Department of Labor’s apprenticeship director, on the issue, and Copas investigated job tasks at SL Tennessee suitable for a 17-year-old.

“Students under the age of 18 can thrive in apprenticeship programs,” Harris said. “SL Tennessee and the Tennessee Department of Labor have been wonderful in working with us.”

Paperwork was completed and Chyann was ready to start, but the pandemic put those plans on hold at first, Harris said. Chyann started at SL Tennessee in September 2020.

SL Tennessee Business Development Manager Scott Laska said the company has hired about 10 graduates of Roane State’s mechatronics program over the past three years, but Chyann is the company’s first apprentice still attending high school.

“She’s an engaging young lady and full of energy,” Laska said. “We hope to make her a contributing member of our team in the future.”

He said Chyann is teamed up with a maintenance technician at SL Tennessee, which has about 770 employees and some 900,000 square feet under roof. She’s getting an overview of the plant’s equipment and how it functions.

Laska said SL Tennessee intends to continue the apprenticeship program for Roane State mechatronics students under 18 years of age.

Chyann’s mechatronics instructor, Guilherme Garcia, said the apprenticeship program is “a great opportunity for her to see what an engineer does on the job. She’s very dedicated and has a passion for engineering.”

“The mechatronics program has been very educational and an experience that I have enjoyed going through and being a part of,” Chyann said. She’s the daughter of Juliean and Lester Mann.

She says she’s worked on the assembly line and learned how to repair machines at SL Tennessee. “I like the people there,” she said. “They’re quite nice and I enjoy learning about the robots.”

Chyann will graduate in May with a Roane State associate’s degree and her high school diploma, thanks to the Middle College program. She says she plans to continue working at SL Tennessee and may seek a university degree in electrical engineering.