January 24, 2022: St. Thomas More High School is pleased to announce that the school has been awarded a $50,000 grant by the Bucyrus Foundation of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation. This grant funding will allow St. Thomas More to establish “The Bucyrus Manufacturing Center” as the hub for the school’s S.M.A.R.T. Manufacturing program.
First enrolling students in 2020, S.M.A.R.T. (Safety, Mechatronics, Automation, Robotics, Tools) Manufacturing introduces students to common manufacturing skills and processes, such as mechatronics, computer-aided design (CAD), laser engraving, and 3-D printing. The course immediately became one of the most popular at St. Thomas More, with nearly 80 students taking S.M.A.R.T. Manufacturing during the program’s first school year.
“Student interest in S.M.A.R.T. Manufacturing has been strong, even in the program’s infancy,” S.M.A.R.T. Manufacturing teacher Ryan Laessig (TM ’04) said. “This generous grant from the Bucyrus Foundation will allow us to expand the program, providing students with additional hands-on opportunities in an environment that more closely resembles what they will experience in the professional world.”
Bucyrus, also known as Bucyrus-Erie and Bucyrus International, was a leading manufacturer of surface mining equipment, conducting business in South Milwaukee for 118 years. Bucyrus supplied 77 of the 102 Steam Shovels used to dig the Panama Canal, and the company’s influence developing the City of South Milwaukee helped bring other manufacturers to Southeastern Wisconsin. The company was sold to Caterpillar in 2011.
For decades, large, international manufacturing businesses, such as Bucyrus, Allen-Bradley, and Ladish, headquartered their operations in Southeastern Wisconsin, providing excellent jobs for the community. While some of these companies have merged with other entities, the region remains a center of manufacturing, not only for Wisconsin but for the entire country.
“Southeastern Wisconsin has long been a center for the manufacturing industry, with companies like Bucyrus providing rewarding careers and well-paying jobs that helped build our community,” St. Thomas More principal Joel Eul (TM ’79) said. Historically, those jobs were with big corporations, but today, many manufacturing firms are smaller “mom-and-pop” shops. Manufacturing careers are still prevalent, especially in Metro Milwaukee, but the employers offering those opportunities look quite different than those of the past.
According to government data compiled by the National Association of Manufacturing, Wisconsin’s manufacturing industry represents a higher percentage of the total workforce than in any other state. As of November 2021, nearly half a million Wisconsinites work in manufacturing, 18 percent of the state’s workforce. As many lifelong employees reach retirement age, however, the industry faces a considerable labor scarcity as businesses struggle to find qualified candidates for open positions.
St. Thomas More began planning its S.M.A.R.T. Manufacturing class in early 2019 to offer our students additional post-secondary pathways and help address this workforce shortage. Complementing our award-winning college-preparatory curriculum, the Career Education Program, which also consists of the Nursing Assistant Certification Program, provides students with the skills, experience, and certification needed for both immediate job placement and long-term, sustained career success in manufacturing, engineering, nursing, and healthcare.
After completing the course requirements and passing a proficiency exam, S.M.A.R.T. Manufacturing students earn the Certified Production Technician (CPT) Safety Certificate. Once they finish their classwork and on-site responsibilities, participating nursing students receive the Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) credential. Both certifications demonstrate to potential employers that they possess the prerequisite knowledge and real-world experience needed as entry-level manufacturing or nursing professionals.
“St. Thomas More’s Career Education offerings allow our students to begin working in the nursing and manufacturing fields while still enrolled in high school,” dean of academics Patrick Idstein explained. “S.M.A.R.T. Manufacturing and the Nursing Assistant Certification provide students with valuable workplace experience as they continue to discern their plans for post-secondary studies and employment.”
St. Thomas More’s Career Education Program has also benefited from grants from the Green Bay Packers Foundation, the Catholic Community Foundation, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, the Ralph Evinrude Foundation, and the Frank L. Weyenberg Charitable Trust.
The Bucyrus Foundation, formed in the 1970s, was a significant source of charitable giving in the community. In 2002, the company transferred its foundation to the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, which manages administrative services, support, and investments.
“We thank the Bucyrus Foundation for its investment in our school and our students,” St. Thomas More president John Hoch (TM ’87) said. “We are incredibly proud to have the opportunity to help preserve the Bucyrus legacy in our community. The company’s offices may have closed, but this grant will allow Bucyrus to continue advancing the manufacturing industry through its support for its future workforce.”
For more than a century, the Greater Milwaukee Foundation has been at the heart of the civic community, helping donors achieve the greatest philanthropic impact, elevating the work of changemakers across neighborhoods, and bringing people together to realize a thriving region. Leveraging generations of community knowledge, cross-sector partnerships, and more than $1 billion in financial assets, the Foundation is committed to reimagining philanthropy, recentering communities, and remaking systems to transform our region into a Milwaukee for all. For more information about the foundation, please visit greatermilwaukeefoundation.org.