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Columbia Works teaches interns virtual reality tech, robotics and video production


Miles Vance, Columbia County Spotlight

Despite all the challenges of educating students during the COVID-19 pandemic, Columbia Works found a way to get it done for nine high school-aged students from Columbia County.

Columbia Works, a pilot internship program where Columbia County high school students earn summer experience working at the Oregon Manufacturing Innovation Center R&D, celebrated the completion of its first cohort.

The eight-week, paid internship is designed to help Columbia County high school students explore their interests and provide career-related learning experiences. Columbia Works, which began on July 6, included nine high school-aged students from Scappoose High School and the NAYA Many Nations Academy. They worked with industry mentors to explore and develop digital tools, including augmented reality and virtual reality technology, robotics and video production — skills that help provide training solutions to real-world challenges faced by advanced manufacturers.

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Testing Virtual Reality

“Columbia Works is a win-win,” said Scappoose High School counselor and Columbia Works organizational committee member Aarin Pinkstaff. “The students get to explore their interests while gaining hands-on work experience, and community partners benefit from bright local talent eager to contribute and learn.”

Grant Kirby, an associate professor at the Oregon Institute of Technology who also oversees OMIC R&D’s distance learning, helped manage the current Columbia Works interns.

“The focus is to make a difference in the lives of each of these young women and men,” Kirby said. “We know that we are teaching them advanced skills they cannot yet find in academic settings, which we hope will inspire them to further their learning.”

Scappoose High School senior-to-be Anika Havlik said the internship provided her with mentorship while allowing her to broaden her skill set in a creative and productive atmosphere and prepare for life after high school.

“Developing technology for virtual reality software that can be used in today’s workforce has been such a unique experience that ties everything I’ve learned together,” Havlik said. “I have learned the basics of coding as well as other programs — skills that can be applied in a wide range of jobs.”

Columbia Works is the product of a three-year vision started by Pinkstaff, Northwest Regional Education Service District STEM Hub Director Myronda Schiding and St. Helens High School Counselor Carissa Chism. This year’s pilot program was born out of a desire to connect local students with research and development and industry mentors at OMIC R&D. Initial funding was provided by OMIC R&D, the Oregon Manufacturing Extension Partnership, NWRESD and the PCC Foundation.

“Our collective mission to inspire and prepare young people for exciting careers is very well aligned,” Schiding said. “We hope to grow this work in the coming year by engaging local businesses and showing them the rich resources we have here in our community.”

In addition to funding, PCC — along with other academic, industry and community partners — provided the interns with professional development tools and career and college preparation advice. PCC’s OMIC Training Center Director Andrew Lattanner leads the college’s efforts in Columbia County and is on the Columbia Works organizational committee.

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Columbia Works summer internship

“Columbia Works is about helping students explore their future and creating a community to support them on the path they choose, including opportunities in advanced manufacturing,” Lattanner said. “With PCC planning to open its new PCC OMIC Training Center in Scappoose in 2021, Columbia Works can serve as an important introduction to academic and skill-based pathways that lead to meaningful career opportunities for Columbia County students.”

Columbia Works’ sponsors are optimistic this summer’s program is just the start of more robust collaboration in the coming years.

“We want to see this program grow bigger for Columbia County, but also other high schools in the region,” Kirby said. “If we do our job right, the students will find inspiration here that will lead them on to further academic and employment opportunities.”

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