By DENNIS SEID / Daily Journal

For the past 11 years, Bryan Hawkins has opened the doors of his company to students and teachers so he can share his knowledge and passion for manufacturing.

The effort has been highlighted by the Tek2Go Advanced Manufacturing Camps, spearheaded by Itawamba Community College, working together with the Community Development Foundation and Hawkins’ company, Hawkeye Industries. The camps have affected more than 250 students and teachers over the years, and it was recently nationally recognized.

Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs, the foundation of the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association International, awarded the inaugural Future of Industry Award to ICC for the Tek2Go Advanced Manufacturing Camp.

“Culturally, manufacturing is perceived to be dirty places to work for low wages. The most rewarding thing the camp has accomplished is changing the perception for our students and teachers,” said Barry Emison, dean of Career and Technical Education at ICC. “It has allowed them to experience the quality of the work environment and skill level required for lifelong careers which our local manufacturers provide in our community.

NBT provided the first grant to get the student camp started in Tupelo in 2009, and offered an additional grant for the first teacher camp in the summer of 2016. Both camps are now funded through the Toyota Wellspring Education Fund and held at the Manufacturing Solutions Center at ICC’s Belden campus.

The Tek2Go camps are designed for middle school students in grades six through eight and K-12 teachers in Chickasaw, Itawamba, Lee, Monroe, Pontotoc and Union counties. The participants in both camps are exposed to advanced manufacturing concepts through hands-on activities, metal projects and industry tours.

“This is an innovative approach for our local students and teachers to be introduced to career opportunities and gain a hands-on experience of the workforce skills needed in our manufacturing industry,” said CDF Chairman Sam Pace. “Over 250 students and teachers have been impacted by these Tek2Go camps. This would not have been possible without NBT, the Toyota endowment fund and camp partners Itawamba Community College and Hawkeye Industries.”

Gina Black, the project coordinator at CDF overseeing the camps, said having Hawkins involved was a big benefit.

“He’s been involved with the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association for some 30 years,” she said. “He’s been on their board, and when they started about 13 years ago with the initiatives to get the camps started throughout the U.S., he was heavily involved.”

And while the award was given to the college, the collaboration with Hawkins and CDF was instrumental.

“Bryan has been our community champion being an entrepreneur and letting students into his place.” Black said.

Hawkins is CEO of Hawkeye Industries, which he founded in 1995. His company is a contract sheet metal fabricator using metal manufacturing technologies including state-of-the-art laser cutting, punching, forming and welding, with customers across the country.

He said working with ICC and and CDF, along with other manufacturers in the area, has been beneficial.

“We’re working with 15-20 kids at a time, and as we well know, this isn’t taught to everyone,” he said. “And a lot of teachers don’t know either … this is a way to help everyone connect the dots. We’ve been able to reach even more students by having the teachers come to the camps, and in turn they’ve gone out and taught more students. It’s been a multiplier effect.”