Annette Norris Has a Passion for Changing Lives for the Better by Developing Educational Programs Related to Manufacturing
What do the following all have in common: FIRST Robotics teams, apprenticeship programs, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) curriculum development, summer engineering camps, after-school engineering workshops, engineering job fairs, manufacturing career field trips, Maker Spaces, Fab Labs, and technology incubators/accelerators?
Obviously, this is a list of engineering-related programs, activities, and educational initiatives that help young people realize the possibilities of careers in design, engineering, and manufacturing. However, this is also a list of the achievements adorning the 30-year-plus career of Annette Norris, who directs the Early Engagement Team at DASI Solutions, the SOLIDWORKS value-added reseller based in Pontiac, Mich.
“This is where I really learned a great deal about manufacturing,” Norris explains. “I had the opportunity to tour manufacturing facilities and really learn what skills were required for many jobs. I ended my time there with a successful youth program helping to mentor students who believed that they could not go to college. By mentoring them, they began to realize they indeed had the potential to do it.”
The program that Norris directed, the CARE (Concerned Adults Respond Early) Program, identified promising students from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds in the sixth grade who otherwise would have no real opportunity of going to college. Through summer camps, Norris got these students inspired and excited by their potential for attending college and working in manufacturing. Upon graduation from high school, program participants were awarded free tuition for two years to attend JCC.
“I learned early in my career that while education and manufacturing have the same goals in terms of training people to work, they are not typically on the same page,” Norris stresses. “They may be in the same book, but they’re not on the same page. Throughout my career, I’ve had one foot in manufacturing and one foot in education, and I’ve been trying to bring the two together.”
Norris continued to work on educational programs in her next two assignments: first, at the da Vinci Institute, a manufacturing charter school, and then at The Manufacturing Academy, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping people jump-start careers in manufacturing, where she served as Executive Director. In those roles, she served as a liaison between business/industry and local schools, developing field trips, coordinating speakers, and establishing after-school programs and summer workshops for middle school teachers and students.
Changing Lives Via Manufacturing
Her experience working with manufacturers helped Norris assist with all aspects of the Jackson County Intermediate School District’s Manufacturing Technologies Laboratory, where she worked as an instructional assistant from 1999-2005. Norris managed the lab, assisted with curriculum development, and worked with teachers and students to organize field trips and speakers in six Career Pathways. It was through this educational experience that Norris realized that providing students with hands-on experience in design and manufacturing techniques was not only fun and rewarding but also changed lives for the better by stimulating student interest in manufacturing careers. So she initiated, organized, and managed the FIRST Lego League Competition in Jackson County.
As director of the Academy of Manufacturing Careers from 2005-2013, Norris designed and implemented apprenticeship and customized training programs to meet the needs of South Central Michigan Regional manufacturers, and developed a K-12 STEM curriculum for use at after-school workshops and summer camp programs.
“It becomes addictive when your efforts actually help people get jobs,” Norris notes. “What’s really nice is when I reconnect with a student as an adult and see them get married and have families. Partly due to my efforts, instead of flipping burgers or tossing pizzas they have productive careers in manufacturing. It’s extremely gratifying to work at a job through which I’m changing lives for the better everyday.”
Accolades for an Early Engagement Pioneer
Throughout her career, Norris has received awards recognizing her contributions to manufacturing and education. Recent recognitions include the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Apprenticeship Creative Innovators and Trailblazers Award in 2012 and the Manufacturing Institute’s Women in Manufacturing STEP Ahead Award in 2013. She also received a Special Tribute from the State of Michigan on April 4, 2018, “for her outstanding work at DASI Solutions.”
These accolades bring professional satisfaction for a job well done, but it’s the notes that former students drop her from time to time, thanking her for what she did, that Annette says really make her day.