This summer, classroom assignments came to life for three Davie County students as they gained practical work experience and helped solve real-world problems during an internship, also known as “work-based learning experience,” in the automation engineering department at Ashley Furniture Industries’ (Ashley) advanced manufacturing facility in Advance.
“We feel that the real work experience that the students can get and the knowledge that they can gain with an internship is crucial and beneficial for the student in their education, career, and life,” said Bill Webb, automation and robotics manager. “The students get exposed to real-world activities and challenges that they must work to resolve in a real job setting; you can see them transform through the internship as they are engaging with seasoned designers and engineers and gaining experience by working alongside them.”
During the paid internship, the students were treated as full members of the team. Zach Rodgers designed and 3D modeled a new machine control “button box,” and Tanner Rouse reverse-engineered and 3D modeled a break-away bracket so that the parts can be 3D printed on-site. At the same time, Madelyn (Madi) Whitt developed an ergonomic handle for a new machine that will be utilized within Ashley Furniture facilities throughout the United States. The mattress racking system that Rouse designed last summer is now used in a manufacturing facility in Mississippi.
“This internship has meant a lot to me,” said Rodgers, a 2021 Davie High graduate who will attend Florida Institute of Technology this fall on a baseball scholarship. “As a mechanical engineering major, it has given me a chance to have on-the-job experience before I even set foot on a college campus. The Ashley internship gives me the opportunity to have an advantage coming out of college over my peers by giving me experience in a professional setting and on-the-job training.”
Rouse said the internship helped solidify his decision to pursue a career in engineering design. “Prior to my internship, I wasn’t sure if I actually wanted to go into an engineering design field because I didn’t exactly know what it would be like. I now feel confident in pursuing this field…The amount of things I learned makes me wish everyone could have this opportunity.” This fall, the 2021 graduate will begin earning an associate’s degree at Davidson-Davie Community College through the IGNITE DAVIE College Promise. He then plans to transfer to Appalachian State to study industrial design.
Whitt, a rising senior at Davie High, has enjoyed the experience so much that she asked to continue her internship during the coming school year. She would strongly recommend the experience to others. “If anyone in high school or college has the opportunity for an internship in their desired career field they should take advantage of it. There are so many things to learn, like if you really like this career path and if you should change it. Also, the hands-on experience will help you better understand what you are being taught in school.” After graduation, she plans to complete her general education classes at Davidson-Davie Community College through IGNITE DAVIE and then transfer to UNC-Charlotte to major in mechanical engineering and minor in atmospheric sciences.
While Ashley already had a successful internship program for college students, with a large number of participants (around 80% in Webb’s automation department) choosing to grow their career as full-time employees upon graduation, they also recognized the value of attracting high school students. Considering its already robust relationship with Davie County Schools, Ashley sought to develop a meaningful partnership to recruit talented individuals for its future workforce and provide opportunities for students to obtain valuable skillsets that will allow them to grow professionally as they establish their career path.
The solution came in 2019 when Ashley team members Bill Webb, Khara Erickson (executive recruiting), and Kris Gengler (education foundation manager) invited Davie County High School Career and Technical Education (CTE) teachers/Skills USA coaches Will Marrs (drafting) and Seth James (automotive) to the SkillsUSA National Competition, held in Louisville, KY. During the trip, the group brainstormed ways to increase student involvement with Ashley and decided upon an internship in the automation engineering department.
The following summer, Rouse became the first intern. The program was such a success that Ashley invited him back this summer and created two additional positions.
Applicants were required to have taken at least one AutoCAD or 3D modeling class, create a portfolio of their work and provide a resume. “We had over 25 applicants for the internship, which was awesome! It was an extremely difficult decision,” said Webb, who considers internships a win for both the company and the student. “It’s a great way to grow your business and departments and give students the ability to gain real-world work experience.”Ashley Furniture Internships Offers Davie Students Real-World Experience Click To Tweet
Will Marrs is thrilled his students have had this valuable opportunity. “I would have loved to have had their experience as a collegiate senior! Being able to add on their resume that they interned for the world’s largest furniture manufacturer will set them apart from every other job applicant. Beyond practicing their skills from the classroom, they learned employability skills like being on time, time management, and professionalism in the workplace.”
He wishes that every student could have this type of experience and pointed out that there are dozens of students in a variety of fields of study who would make wonderful interns for other Davie County companies.
“A lot of talented students weren’t selected, and as educators, it is our goal to find a place for each of them.”
“I want more companies to latch on to this opportunity to engage with local students and to show them that they can have a viable future without having to leave Davie County,” Marrs added. “It’s a great way for them to secure their future workforce.”
Kris Gengler is proud of the new high school internship program as well as the many other educational programs that Ashley Furniture supports in Davie County. “Supporting education is a priority for Ashley and the Wanek family. As the world continues to change and evolve, the importance of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Education within schools will prove to be a critical element in preparing students for a successful future.”
Anthony Davis, director of CTE and federal programs, is grateful to Ashley and encourages other Davie County companies to consider establishing an internship program with Davie County Schools. He pointed out that the school system provides full insurance coverage for the students through the state so insurance does not need to be a determining factor.
“We are hoping that our internship opportunities will continue to grow, and as other advanced manufacturers see that Ashley Furniture is able to make this happen, they will want to do the same. This is a win for everyone.”
To learn more about setting up an internship program for students in Davie County, contact Anthony Davis at (336) 751-5921 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or Alyse Wooldridge (career development coordinator – DCHS) at 336-751-5905 or email@example.com.
In addition to the internship program, Ashley Furniture Industries supports the following initiatives: