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Rock and Roll College

Updated on February 8, 2018

MARTINSVILLE, VA - Students at Patrick Henry Community College are learning the ins-and-outs of guitar … Literally!

In PHCC’s IDEA Academy, students are designing and building their very own electric guitars.

“When I was in school I took a shop class where we built a working lamp. I was really proud of that lamp at the time, but honestly, I could not tell you where it is now,” said David Dillard, PHCC’s Assistant Professor of General Engineering Technology. “These kids are building a real, working electric guitar that they get to keep. I guarantee you that when they are my age, they’ll still have their guitar.”

The students’ pride in their work is plainly written on their faces as their guitars take shape in their hands. They each add their own designs and special touches fastidiously perfecting every inch. It is hard work, and it captivates everyone’s full attention. Students are not playing on their phones in this classroom.

“They’re learning about math, physics, science, electronics, tone and vibration, mechanics… It’s not all fun, games, and rock and roll,” explains Dillard. “Some of the students had never worked with basic tools or done any woodworking before. Now they know how to operate those tools and equipment correctly and safely. They’re also finding out why guitars are so expensive. I don’t think they knew what went into making one before this class. It’s been an eye-opener.”

The IDEA Academy students are not just learning how to build a guitar. The academy enables high school students to take up to 30 college credits in the applied engineering field. When they graduate from high school with these 30 credits, they will have many options. They would already be two-thirds of the way through a Siemens Mechatronics Industry Certification program or an Advanced Film Manufacturing Career Studies Certificate. They would be prepared to take the Certified Production Technician national certification. Or, they could complete a General Engineering Technology Associate Degree by taking only 25 more credits.

No matter which degree or certification path these students choose, the industrial safety, quality assurance, materials and manufacturing processes, and an industrial maintenance lessons they learn through the academy are critical in a variety of careers.

Jennifer Puckett is a senior at Magna Vista. She plans to go into engineering and architecture after graduation. “We do have some lecture time here, but it’s not like being in a regular classroom. We get to work on our guitars a lot. The other kids at my school think that’s pretty cool.”

This unique program is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation and the guitars are part of the STEM Guitar Project.

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