By Amanda Dyslin
Free Press Staff Writer
— Sarah Richards paid a visit this spring to the “How People Make Things” exhibit at the Children’s Museum in St. Paul.
As president of Jones Metal Products in Mankato and Region Nine advisory chair for Minnesota Precision Manufacturing Association, she had more fun than she expected to at a museum for kids.
“I wanted to stay in there and keep working all night,” she wrote in an email to association members. “I enjoyed ‘Mr. Rogers’ as a kid, but this is even better.”
Richards is passionate about encouraging youth to consider careers in manufacturing, which she says have been downplayed for decades in favor of “white collar” careers in law, medicine and on Wall Street.
So inspiration struck during her Children’s Museum visit. “How People Make Things,” she said, is a great introduction to manufacturing. And in March she began a fundraising campaign to send area elementary school students to see the exhibit.
She challenged numerous area associates in manufacturing to sponsor buses of students and their museum tickets at a cost of about $500 per bus. Richards committed one bus from Jones, plus another bus for every five sponsored by other companies.
In just a week, the money for 14 buses had been raised.
“I was really surprised,” she said. “It just kept going. But, of course, I kept pestering.”
About 800 students from Waseca, Lake Crystal and Mankato elementary schools will be headed up to the exhibit at various times this month. Some schools have already gone, including two buses of kids from Lake Crystal Wellcome Memorial.
LCWM Elementary School Principal Sharon Schindle said 63 first-graders were thrilled to get the chance to go. Due to the cost, field trips like this don’t happen often, she said.
“It was exciting. We’ve never had somebody offer like that,” she said. “Learning how things work and figuring things out is so important to young people’s minds. They’re impressionable at this age.”
Richards says the money is well spent.
“It’s really a chance to market careers in manufacturing,” she said, “but also to help people understand that there are many sides to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).”
To reverse the trend of youth moving away from manufacturing jobs, Richards said recruitment should begin at a young age.
The Children’s Museum exhibit will help do just that, she said. Kids will be able to take apart and reassemble a golf cart and make an injection-molded spoon out of plastic, among other hands-on activities.