Natural Resources Edition – Rewind!

The externship was offered June 24-27, 2024 and was hosted by TVCC in Ontario.  It was an action-packed week for the 18 teachers that attended.  We visited the Vale Bureau of Land Management, Malheur Wildlife Refuge, Wallowa Whitman National Forest, and worked with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife on the Snake River just outside of Ontario.  

The goal of the externship was to expose teachers to jobs and careers within the natural resources sector of Eastern Oregon.  Teachers met with governmental agencies as well as non-governmental organizations that help support the natural resources in our own backyards!

Port of Morrow Educator Externships Experience:

How do teachers and counselors help students know how to prepare for a career in STEM-related occupations? And at the same time, how do students know what jobs are out there? This summer, ten teachers from a wide variety of backgrounds including science, math, counseling, leadership, and CTE participated in a 7-day program to connect schools with business and industry. An essential part of the program was visiting various workplaces to learn firsthand the operations, products, jobs, working conditions and requirements for potential employees. Tours included the Umatilla Electric Cooperative, HP Civil, Kirby Nagelhout Construction, Amazon Web Services, and the Woodgrain Particle Board Plant.

As an example of these experiences, let’s experience the tour of the Woodgrain Particle Board Plant in Island City, Union County. The Plant looks like an industrial site with large buildings, conveyor belts, pipes, smokestacks and trucks moving in and out of the facility.

Teachers dawned safety gear, hard hat, vest, ear and eye protection and were guided by the company manager through the various process of converting sawdust to useable lumber. After a brief overview of the objectives of the company and the scope of the plant, the tour began. Morgan, the plant manager and a graduate of Eastern Oregon University, showed teachers the start of the process. Thirty sawdust trucks arrive at the plant daily for processing. The sawdust is separated, further chipped, and dried. Plant operators monitor the processes and adjust mixtures of pine and fir chips to accommodate different hardness and surfaces of the particle board.

The sawdust is then combined with wax and resins and layered onto a conveyor. The hot mix is parted into large mats of material that are pressed under heat and enormous pressure. Lab technicians monitor the process for toxic emissions and test and treat run-off water for agricultural use. They also conduct tests on the manufactured boards to assure strength and hardness.

The entire process is monitored by camera and data collection in one centralized control room. Each sheet of particle board has a tight tolerance of +/- 1/1000-inch thickness. Wood Grain has positions for programmers and statisticians who translate data into most efficient use of materials and practices for making perfect particle board.

Twenty-five trucks a day roll out the transformed product to customers all over the US. These products are custom-designed to accommodate specific applications such as counter tops, shelving, and other construction.

Teachers learned about the range of positions at the plant from operators and warehouse workers to lab technicians, programmers, accountants, and management. Woodgrain emphasizes that they hire employees who will want to learn and make a difference to the company. They can teach the skills and knowledge, they just need employees who have good character and a basic skill set ready for work.

The externship program is a partnership with Willamette Promise and Associated General Contractors. It is sponsored by GEAR Up, the Eastern Oregon Workforce Board, Port of Morrow, and Amazon Web Services.

“The Educator Externship is a perfect opportunity to connect teachers and counselors with industry. They get to learn out in the field from professionals within the trades who can share valuable information on high demand jobs while visiting active job sites. During the seven-day externship, they visit with employers from different sectors and meet with education partners to better understand career pathways after high school. We are so grateful to both our educators and industry partners who make this experience possible.” Said Kalie Davis, Director of Workforce Development.