Flathead Valley Machining Program Grants

Flathead Valley Community College Trades and Industrial Arts received $24,000 in scholarship funds for machining program students courtesy of the Gene Haas Foundation. The scholarships are available for both first-year and second-year students in the machining program and will be awarded based on academic performance.

Director of Trades and Industrial Arts at FVCC, Peter Fusaro, says the machining program currently has about 14 students, most of who are employed locally after graduation. The median wage for a machinist working in Montana is $21 per hour or $44,000 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Through hands-on experience and classroom lectures, students learn to operate and program manual and computerized mills and lathes using a variety of materials and the latest software. The curriculum was developed with input from local and regional manufacturing businesses to ensure students are gaining the knowledge and skills that are in demand.

“There’s a strong community connection between our machining program and local businesses,” Dr. Dan Leatzow, FVCC senior manufacturing instructor, said. “Our graduates are hired by places such as PROOF Research, Defiance Machine, Applied Materials, Thompson Precision and Baiar Industries. The need is absolutely there and we’re happy to have the education available to anyone interested.”

Leatzow became familiar with the Gene Haas Foundation while attending a manufacturing education conference in 2013.

“The conference served as a platform to connect educators and industrial partners, and I was pleased to learn of the Gene Haas Foundation grant opportunities available to our students,” Leatzow said.

A lathe at Flathead Valley Community College’s machining shop in Kalispell on Nov. 5, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The foundation was established in 1999 and its aim is to expand the pool of skilled workers by providing support to students currently enrolled in or interested in enrolling in manufacturing programs.

The well-known machine tool builder, Haas Automation, Inc. established the foundation as a way to support local communities and economies. Leatzow has been applying for Haas grants every other year since 2015.

“To date in total, we’ve received $84,000 in scholarship funding from the Gene Haas Foundation. Each grant is spent over a two-year time period, so we’ve been able to have funds available to students entering the program as well as students working on their second year,” he said.

Leatzow grew up locally and, through his pursuit of lifelong learning, landed back in the Flathead Valley after traveling to earn two undergraduate degrees, a master’s, a PhD, and work in several jobs in the aerospace, engineering, biotechnology and water systems industries.

With extensive experience as both a learner and then an employer, he’s able to give students a unique perspective as an educator in the classroom.

“Machining program classes take a student through the entire process; inception to completion,” Leatzow said. “They’ll come up with an idea, create the design, translate the project to the machines and create tool paths, then produce the component.”

Flathead Valley Community College’s machining shop in Kalispell on Nov. 5, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

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