New precision machining course opens doors for Independence Academy students

Independence Academy students are proving that every goal is possible through their involvement in a new precision machining class at The Career Academy.
Students are learning how to read blueprints, operate machines and build tools in the class, which is being offered for the first time this spring. The semester-long course is a partnership between Lincoln Public Schools, The Career Academy (TCA) and Southeast Community College. The Independence Academy is a program for students ages 18-21 with disabilities that provides relevant educational, life, social, vocational and career experiences in a business and/or agency setting.
Weston and Elvis are two members of the inaugural six-person group. They listened intently to teacher Kevin Dunkle as he explained how to correctly position a mill machine’s drill over a piece of metal. Both said after class that they were glad to learn new skills in TCA’s state-of-the-art precision machining room.
“I like that every single day we always work on something new that gets us closer to our goals,” Weston said.
“It’s fun to learn how to be great at machines,” Elvis said. “I think it’s pretty good to do that.”

Precision machining is a process that shapes large pieces of material into more precise parts. Workers use manufacturing tools such as lathes, mills and computer numerical control (CNC) machines to create highly-accurate designs and products.
Dunkle said he has enjoyed watching Independence Academy students display enthusiasm and energy each day. He taught adults at a state facility for nine years before working in the private sector for the next 25 years. He has led precision machining courses at TCA for the past seven years.
“This is awesome,” Dunkle said. “These guys are amazing. I always say they’re like sponges. They just absorb everything, and they do it with a great attitude. That’s my favorite part.”
Emily Nathan agreed with Dunkle’s assessment. Nathan began teaching at Independence Academy this year and was involved with the partnership group that created the class. She said the course has been everything she hoped it would be.
“More. Absolutely more,” Nathan said. “It’s been really great.”
Students took a pre-test at the beginning of the semester to gauge their mechanical knowledge. They learned how to identify information found on blueprints before examining multiple tools. They operated lathe, mill and CNC machines and explored the different drills and attachments found on each device.
“We use tape measures to figure out the inches, and we look at blueprints to make everything right,” Elvis said. “They have the numbers so we know what size to make everything. We’ve made lots of good shapes.”
“It’s fun,” Weston said. “We’re together in the demonstrations and then we learn how to do it. We always pair up with teachers. That helps us a lot with the projects we do.”
Students focused much of their attention this spring on creating their own customized hammer. They began their project by forming the hammer’s head, and they then used a mill machine to insert a twist section in the middle. They spent time one morning fine-tuning the grooves at a worktable, which allowed them to attach the head to a silver handle later on.
Elvis said Dunkle deserved a lot of credit for helping students make their hammers.
“Kevin’s a good teacher on how to do this with the mill machines and lathe machines,” Elvis said. “I really like Kevin. He’s a good teacher.”
Weston displayed his completed hammer to Nathan at the end of the class period. She was happy to see students use their comprehensive knowledge for the personalized project.
“Their hammer is going to be customized, so they’ll get to pick what they want engraved on it,” Nathan said. “This project got to use all three machines, whereas before we worked on just one. They really put it all together.”
Nathan said students have picked up a wide variety of skills from the course. Not only have they passed new math lessons and figured out how to operate complex machines, but they have also boosted their resilience and determination. She said they have learned how to adjust when something is hard and have worked together to reach their goals.
Dunkle said those statements are music to the ears of area employers. He felt all six Independence Academy students in the class would be valuable members of the local workforce.
“These kids are awesome,” Dunkle said. “I’ve worked with a couple different employers in Lincoln where we’re going to go look at their shops and give the students a chance to see them, and it’ll give the employers a chance to talk to these guys. It’s a big deal to me. It’s a real big deal.”
Nathan said the success with the precision machining initiative has spurred talk of additional Independence Academy classes at TCA. She is hoping to have students work with plants in an agriculture/biology course and begin a modified culinary program in the future.
“Those are the big two right now, but there’s just so many possibilities,” Nathan said.
Nathan said it has been inspiring to watch students prove that every goal is achievable through time, talent and hard work.
“We’re hoping this first pathway with TCA is something that will open the door for more pathways and just showing what’s possible,” Nathan said. “Labels don’t mean a whole lot. It might take a little extra time to learn, but you can do anything.”


Do you have a story idea? Share it with the LPS Communications Team by filling out this form!

Published: May 3, 2024, Updated: May 14, 2024

Independence Academy student Elvis lines up the drill on a mill machine as part of a precision machining project at The Career Academy. Six students have been learning precision machining skills through the new course.