3D printer Academy @ Shawnee.jpg

A 3D printer builds a piece of plastic at the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage on April 15, 2019.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Sundar Atre, endowed chair of manufacturing and materials at the University of Louisville, hopes to develop a pipeline of advanced manufacturing talent at the Academy @ Shawnee through a new pilot program set to launch soon.

The program, made possible by a $400,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency, will connect Shawnee students interested in advanced manufacturing with equipment and the university’s expertise in the field, he said Monday. That includes new 3D printers at Shawnee and learning space at the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage, where Atre and others in the Louisville Additive Manufacturing Business Development Alliance will highlight the initiative at Shawnee on Tuesday.

The university already has funding ready after winning the grant in August, and Atre says he hopes to start getting students into the program as early as this summer.

“The location of that might have to get defined, but we have the resources to get Shawnee school kids engaged with our program and take that forward right away,” he told WDRB News.

Shawnee has been identified as a low-performing school for a number of years, but Atre sees plenty of promise in its students and the opportunities that advanced manufacturing backgrounds can offer. Shawnee currently has academies covering aviation, interactive media arts and manufacturing, and health and education sciences.

Two Shawnee seniors, Delisha Jackson and Elijah Gilbert, showed Atre and others at U of L around Shawnee in recent weeks and will welcome attendees at Tuesday’s event, which is free for the public and opens at 1 p.m.

Although they won’t be able to take part in the new advanced manufacturing program, they believe it will open new doors for those who participate.

“If I had something like this my freshman year, it would have definitely furthered my knowledge of what I wanted to do by the time I got to senior year,” said Gilbert, who hopes to study in the Kentucky Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education program.

The new advanced manufacturing offerings and the in-house connection with U of L should make more JCPS students consider Shawnee as an option for high school, Jackson said.

“We have a really strong community base here, and there are a lot of teachers that are willing to learn and put in the effort with their students,” said Jackson, who will enroll at Bellarmine University this fall and hopes to become a dermatologist. “Hearing that people already have an assumption about what Shawnee is even though they haven’t really experienced Shawnee is kind of mind-boggling to me.”

Kymberly Rice, Shawnee’s executive principal, said she felt like the school won a lottery when she learned of Atre’s plans to develop an advanced manufacturing program at the school.

In fact, Rice says she hopes programs like U of L’s advanced manufacturing offering will eventually boost Shawnee’s enrollment past 1,000 high school students. There are about 460 high schoolers at Shawnee currently, she said.

The advanced manufacturing program plus the planned $40 million renovation at Shawnee by JCPS will “be so important for our community,” she said.

“We’ve spent a lot of time just trying to change the image that’s been associated with Shawnee for so long, and so I think this investment and this process here will help really give us a brighter future and help people really think positively about Shawnee,” Rice said.

Atre also envisions an economic shift in Louisville’s West End through the advanced manufacturing program at Shawnee.

He credits Michael Gritton, executive director of KentuckianaWorks, with directing him toward the school earlier this year after Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer learned of the $400,000 pilot grant at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C., in February.

He stressed that nothing had been worked out yet, but Atre hopes to continue the advanced manufacturing program beyond its one-year, $400,000 federal grant through a mix of private donations, government funding and business partnerships. Louisville’s varied business community would benefit from a workforce that’s already trained in advanced manufacturing skills, he said, listing industries like automotive, logistics and health that already have local presences.

“We have a community that needs a sustainable pathway to build,” Atre said. “I see this growing of the pie as opposed to building of the pie as a tangible way in which there’s an economic path forward. It is an innovation-based economy.”

“All of it is for them (Shawnee students) and their future,” he added. “They get a chance to shape what happens next.”

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