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Guest Post from David Strom: The future of St. Louis can be found here

When CWEnder David Strom offered to share a post on Ranken Technical College, I jumped on it as I have wanted to bring this little known educational resource to your attention myself. Strom has been a guest blogger on these pages on several occasions (read here (TechShop), here (Cranes over CWE) and here (China, China). He writes for a number of national IT business publications, and can be found at David Strom’s Web Informant or on Twitter at @dstrom. 

From David Strom:

Nicki's Central West End Guide Education Services Web/Tech  STL Today Ranken Technical College Mary Ann Lee Technology Building explorestlouis/centralwestend David Strom's Web Informant David Strom Ashley Jost   I am almost embarrassed to admit that I have lived in the Central West End neighborhood of St. Louis and never even known about one of the most vibrant college campuses around. I refer to Ranken Technical College, a school that sits just a mile or so from my home and has been operating for more than a century.

We used to refer to these sorts of places as vocational schools, as if they were less than a “real” college. But the tide of perception has turned. As I found out with my tour around campus from the schools’ president Stan Shoun, this is the real future of our city.

The private, non-profit school has more than a dozen different degree programs, spanning things like auto repair, architecture, carpentry, HVAC technology, IT, plumbing, and control systems. Each graduate gets on average five different job offers, and that is where you start to see the difference. Almost everyone is gainfully employed within six months, most getting paid more than $30k a year. The last job fair Ranken held had close to 400 companies recruiting their students, the largest such job fair in the state. That is the kind of college that I would want to go to!

While the school has sat in the same place for more than a century, it is no ivory tower. It is strictly a hands-on place, with the latest equipment for the students to get trained on. Students spent three hours in labs or in the various machine shops for every hour in the classroom.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Education Services Web/Tech  STL Today Ranken Technical College Mary Ann Lee Technology Building explorestlouis/centralwestend David Strom's Web Informant David Strom Ashley Jost   Car companies routinely drop off their latest models for the students to tear apart and put back together. Shoun makes a point of having his own personal car from whatever they have finished working on: his last car took 18 months to get street-legal again, after being totaled in an accident. The auto shop programs are the school’s largest: consider this was “new technology” back 100 years ago. One class works on tuning high-performance engines, as you can see in this photo.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Education Services Web/Tech  STL Today Ranken Technical College Mary Ann Lee Technology Building explorestlouis/centralwestend David Strom's Web Informant David Strom Ashley Jost   The IT class that I visited was a set of students that had taken their Cisco CCNA exams, which all but one had passed. There were other computer labs scattered around the 100-acre campus, some being used for classes teaching computer-controlled equipment such as you see here for this metalworking rig.

They also learn on these custom workbenches that are built fNicki's Central West End Guide Education Services Web/Tech  STL Today Ranken Technical College Mary Ann Lee Technology Building explorestlouis/centralwestend David Strom's Web Informant David Strom Ashley Jost   or them: I have no idea what their purpose is, but it sure is impressive.  To top it all off, over the years students have built more than 60 single-family homes that ring the campus. That is probably more new construction than anyplace else nearby of that type. The campus is also growing: Shoun intends to increase the student body over time, as demand for these kinds of skills continues to rise. And he is opening new campuses too: Ranken has expanded to the western St. Louis suburbs to be a nearby GM plant, and another campus is opening about two hours south of the city near another auto parts facility.

And to help keep tuition reasonable, Shoun also is acting CEO on more than a dozen different “microventures,” run by the students. These are real operating businesses that dovetail with the school’s programs: the students get real-world experience so when they graduate they already have some solid skills and abilities. That is really smart, not to mention effective.

Given that many of these kinds of technical jobs are unfilled, Ranken clearly serves a need. I am glad that I stumbled across the place and got to see it first hand. If you would like a tour, I can set you up. You will see the future of St. Louis quite clearly as you walk around their campus.

Many thanks to David Strom for sharing this most informative post. (more…)

CWEnder David Strom on TechShop STL

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Events, Sightings Handmade Services Shop News  Third Degree Glass Factory TechShop St. Louis Square MO Jim McKelvey David Strom Central West End

What would it be like if you had access to just about any kind of metal or wood cutting and shaping tool right in your neighborhood, with the ability to learn how to use the more advanced equipment from the most patient teachers? That is somewhat what the new TechShop facility is like. The shop, located at Forest Park Blvd. and Duncan (in the Cortex District), is open from 9 am to midnight to anyone who becomes a member at $150 a month. It is the ninth location of the franchise, with other locations in California, Texas and Michigan, which is where I first experienced the wonder of the place.

Now, I should say right up front that I am not a guy who can use tools. If a job requires something more than a hammer and a screwdriver, I am going to call in a professional. My father didn’t have much of a workshop, and he wasn’t tool-friendly either. We both did our best work on keyboards. But if I were tool-adept, I would be at the TechShop as often as I could.

The place has over a million dollars of machinery, including high-pressure water jet cutting beds (see photo below) that can slice through 8 inches of steel or wood, various lathes, 3-D printers, computer-controlled sewing and embroidery machines, various other woodworking tools and enough computers to fill several classrooms. There is also welding equipment where you put on your leather protective gear and dark glasses and pretty quickly can be controlling a flame that is as bright as the sun just inches from your face.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Events, Sightings Handmade Services Shop News  Third Degree Glass Factory TechShop St. Louis Square MO Jim McKelvey David Strom Central West End
High pressure water jet cutting bed

Lest you think everything in there is fancy, high-priced stuff, they have plenty of “normal” tools that can find in the average basement workroom, such as socket sets and drills, below.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Events, Sightings Handmade Services Shop News  Third Degree Glass Factory TechShop St. Louis Square MO Jim McKelvey David Strom Central West End

What if you are like me and are a complete novice when it comes to operating heavy (or even light) machinery? No problem. There are classes galore to show you the way. Once things kick into gear (technically the place is having a “soft open” for the next month), there will be more experienced hands to guide you around and help you understand the secrets of the tools that they have. When I was at the Michigan-based TechShop, I built this thing out of what seemed like random spare parts, below.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Events, Sightings Handmade Services Shop News  Third Degree Glass Factory TechShop St. Louis Square MO Jim McKelvey David Strom Central West End
A custom-made TechShop LED creation.

You dream up some gizmo and then you go there to create stuff, part of the “Maker Movement” that you might have heard about. Jim McKelvey invented the Square payment reader at one TechShop so he could take credit cards at the Third Degree Glass Factory. Another person took some classes and developed a million-dollar business selling iPad covers made out of bamboo. There are lots of stories of others who didn’t make big bucks but love to tinker around with the equipment, and have lots of fun.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Events, Sightings Handmade Services Shop News  Third Degree Glass Factory TechShop St. Louis Square MO Jim McKelvey David Strom Central West End

Things were still being put in place on the day that I visited TechShop – CWE, with construction crews working on installing various things. Honestly, it was hard to figure out what was part of their permanent collection and what was just works in progress, which I guess is part of the charm of the place.

Strom’s last post for this blog was about the construction crane at the building site on Euclid/Lindell.

Many thanks David!

Guest post from David Strom: New Construction Crane over Euclid

I'm delighted to bring you the following guest post from CWEnder David Strom, which allows me to procrastinate a little longer on stories I have in the pipeline. Strom writes for a number of national IT business publications, and can be found at strominator.com or on Twitter at @dstrom: Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Events, Sightings Web/Tech  Strominator St. Louis Opus Project MO David Strom Central West End

The Opus-led construction project at Euclid and Lindell made a big step forward yesterday, with the erection of a 14-story construction crane over the building site. The crane was assembled in pieces by several workers over the course of the weekend. Like other building sites around town, it will be used to raise materials for the building. The bright yellow crane can be seen from many CWE locations.

More information on what these plans for the building entail and a rendering of the finished project can be seen on Nicki's post here.
 
Thanks so much David for the great photo and informative update on this project.
 
Giant cranes dominate the CWE skyline these days. In my opinion, crowded sidewalks and thriving businesses are well worth any inconvenience that might be caused by the neighborhood's construction boom.