Student Boat-Builders Near Finish Line

The 16-foot open day-sailer that eight at-risk youth built this summer as an exercise to learn math and work skills will be finished Friday and, after a little fit and polish, will be launched into the Willamette River October 5. Before then, it will be displayed in Pioneer Square to kick off National Manufacturing Day October 4.

The eight students, only one of whom had completed high school and ranging in age from 17 to 22, showed up 13 weeks ago to a workshop located at 11th and SE Stark in Portland. They found a pile of wood and a keel. None had any experience with woodworking and all had struggled with math in school. None had any clear career plans.

Along the way, one student builder decided to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering and acquired the dean of engineering at Portland State University as her mentor. Another plans to enter a community college welding program. A third reversed his earlier decision to bypass college and will enroll in community college. Two decided to take GED exams after gaining confidence in basic math and geometry, which they used daily in building the boat. Yet another elected to return to regular high school.

"This was a true learning experience," said CFM partner Norm Eder who helped to spearhead and fund the innovative summer work program. "There were some bumps, but the students built a boat, a boat that will sail for years to come. That is a great accomplishment for these young people."

The effort was overseen by Wind & Oar Boat School, which provided the instructors and skill training, and WorkSystems Inc., which provided some of the funding and the students. 

In addition to practical lessons in working with fractions and compound angles, building the boat required the students to learn the value of teamwork. For one thing, the boat was designed by a French naval architect and the plans were rendered in metric, requiring the students to convert every measurement.

Eder, who became a regular visitor and pizza delivery man to the starving student-builders, said, "This is more than a boat. It is a wonderful success story. It has touched the lives of these students and opened the eyes of those who ask for a better skilled workforce about how programs like this can work."

According to Eder, the Southwest Washington Workforce Development Corporation has committed to a Vancouver boat-build later this year. The principal of Madison High School has asked Wind & Oar to do a build at the Northeast Portland school. And WSI plans to fund a new cohort of student-builders next month. The program has attracted sponsors, including Silver Eagle Manufacturing that provided custom marine bronze components for the student-built boat.

At-Risk Youth Build a Boat

Seven to ten students will spend their summer polishing math skills and learning teamwork by building a 16-foot sailboat, the brainchild of CFM Partner Norm Eder and his wife, Sherry, who are advocates of hands-on learning.For most of us, boats are a source of recreation and relaxation. For seven to 10 local youngsters, building a 16-foot sailboat will be an opportunity to polish their math and work skills this summer.

CFM Partner Norm Eder and his wife, Sherry, were the spark plugs behind a partnership between Worksystems, Inc. and the Wind & Oar Boat School to create a hands-on learning opportunity for at-risk youth.

The young boat builders got to work this week after learning about shop safety, materials and tools. They were assigned to read the plans for the boat, which was designed by famous French naval architect Francois Vivier. It will take them 10 weeks from laying the keel to the final paint job, all under the watchful eyes of two master boat builders.

Eder, who worked at the Oregon Graduate Institute before joining CFM, has been a long-time advocate for hands-on learning and played a role in OGI's start-up of Saturday Academy. One of his current clients is the Manufacturing 21 Coalition, which has engaged in numerous efforts to link industry, university research and skilled worker training. Sherry has been a classroom teacher for 20 years and now guides an early childhood Head Start program for Neighborhood House in SW Portland.

The idea for the innovative summer program came last fall after Eder joined the Wind & Oar Boat School board. He lined up the partnership with the workforce board that covers Multnomah and Washington counties, which supplied the youngsters, and the nonprofit school, which will provide instructional training. Worksystems Inc. is funding the educational costs, as well as providing stipends for the student boat smiths.

The youngsters will work 3.5 hours per day, five days a week. In addition to polishing their math skills (nothing on a boat is built without mathematical calculation), program participants will learn the importance of teamwork, time management and construction planning. They also will learn different methods of traditional small craft construction and how small craft design and construction technologies evolved to meet the practical needs of those who venture onto rivers and oceans.

"I've built my own wooden boat that I sail and it gave me great satisfaction," Eder says. "It just seemed to me this could provide equal or greater value to students over a summer."

One of the first challenges the students faced was converting metric measurements to more familiar values as they began attaching the first bulkheads to the keel. They also will learn about sustainable practices, durable woods and sail-making.