Transformational gift boosts manufacturing education
Photos by Cindy Davis Meixel, writer/photo editor
A $1 million grant from the Gene Haas Foundation sparked extensive renovations to Pennsylvania College of Technology’s automated manufacturing lab while expanding scholarship offerings and enabling the college to promote manufacturing careers more broadly to K-12 students.
The Gene Haas Center for Innovative Manufacturing was formally dedicated on Nov. 6, featuring participation from representatives of the Penn College Board of Directors, the Penn College Foundation Board, the Gene Haas Foundation and the Phillips Corp., as well as elected officials, machining and manufacturing industry advisory committee members, industry partners, alumni, faculty, staff, and students.
Renovation of the 12,200-square foot instructional space was largely completed over the summer. The work included a new CNC Programming and Simulation Lab, allowing for enhanced instruction; LED high bay lighting for improved illumination; anti-skid epoxy flooring; fresh paint on the walls and ceiling; HVAC and electrical utility improvements; sound-abatement panels for a better user and visitor experience; and loading-dock upgrades.
Matching funding from the college supported the purchase of new equipment for the program including multi-axis milling and turning centers, multi-axis CNC machines, industrial robots, 3D printers and additive manufacturing machines, and tool fitting systems. The newly designed workstations and designated cabinet space, tooling and toolboxes, and the equipment layout all model Lean, Six-Sigma and 5S industry standards.
“Industry connections are the cornerstone of a Penn College education, and thanks to the Gene Haas Foundation, our students enjoy incredible opportunity,” said Penn College President Michael J. Reed. “The possibilities are quite endless for the next generation of industry leaders.”
“These lab enhancements are just the beginning,” the president continued. “The investment from the Gene Haas Foundation also increases scholarships and enhances strategies to expand program initiatives and recruitment. Updates to the lab and technology will not only benefit current students, but attract high-quality prospective students to the program, while providing a valuable resource to our community, secondary school partners and industry partners. This investment further elevates the national visibility of Penn College’s programs. We look forward to marketing the manufacturing industry to a younger audience during annual recruitment, industry awareness activities and summer camps.”
Kathy Looman, director of education for the Gene Haas Foundation, recounted the entrepreneurial career path followed by Haas, founder and owner of the Oxnard, California-based Haas Automation Inc. She concluded by addressing Haas’ pursuit of philanthropy benefiting the American manufacturing industry.
“Another thing that has been in Gene’s heart since he started in the business was giving back,” Looman said, adding that the commitment was initially focused on Haas’ California community and the families of his employees. “About 13 years ago, he began to focus on the industry and on education. Since then, the Gene Haas Foundation has given away $175 million to schools.”
Looman said that process continues. “Without you here, without the feet on the ground, without the school administrators, and the teachers, and the students, and the community and the rest of our industry, this wouldn’t happen,” she said. “So, I think we can thank everybody … in this space for everything that you all do, and how this center is a representation of all of that.”
“The college is incredibly grateful to the Gene Haas Foundation for their wonderful support,” said Loni N. Kline, senior vice president for college relations. “Their gift is truly transformational and is beneficial for the program today and in the future.”
“Penn College manufacturing engineering technology students learn how to introduce new levels of productivity into the complexities of cutting-edge automated manufacturing operations,” said Bradley M. Webb, dean of engineering technologies. “They take away from their education a diverse skill set with cross-training in advanced manufacturing systems, robotic applications, industrial electronics and engineering economics.”
“Thanks to the Gene Haas Foundation, Webb continued, “our mission continues with a renovation that provides life-changing opportunities for our students who pursue a manufacturing degree.”
Jeff L. Martin Jr., of Pittsburgh, a junior manufacturing engineering technology student, told attendees that he learned how to work with his hands and problem-solve from his father, a general contractor. He credited his mother with pointing him toward a career in engineering technology. He said the immersive “maker culture” at Penn College – coupled with an internship at a Pittsburgh area prototyping company and the experience of starting his own business, Martin Mechanical Design LLC – have provided a solid foundation for his own future.
He and other Penn College students, Martin said, will benefit long-term from the Gene Haas Foundation’s transformational gift.
“Thank you to the Gene Haas Foundation on behalf of Pennsylvania College of Technology,” Martin said. “It means so much that you would invest in our future. Your donation is significant and will impact manufacturing students for a very long time. This industry is evolving rapidly, and it is paramount for the success of manufacturing professionals to be fluent with the latest innovations in our field. This allows Penn College students to be more passionate, more excited, better educated, better skilled and more competitive.”
The Gene Haas Foundation has supported scholarships at Penn College since 2003 and, in recent years, has been a sponsor of the highly successful Penn College Baja SAE team. Since 2011, the team – composed of students from several engineering-related majors – has posted 14 top-10 finishes in the international competition’s endurance race, including wins in 2022 at Baja SAE Tennessee Tech and Baja SAE Rochester.
Members of the team showcased their all-terrain vehicle during the dedication and presented Foundation representatives with a thank-you plaque and ceremonial key to the Gene Haas Center for Innovative Manufacturing.
The Gene Haas Foundation is a member of the Millionaires Society on Penn College’s Donor Wall.
Those wishing to explore giving opportunities at Penn College may visit College Relations or call 570-320-8020.