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Young Manufacturers Academy gives students options to 'Dream It. Do It.'

Words like “apprentice” and “manufacturing” may sound like something from a history lesson to some teens, but they’re discovering those could be their future.

Last week eight rising juniors and seniors toured five local businesses to see some of today’s career options as part of “Dream It. Do It. Tennessee,” encouraging young people to join the advanced manufacturing workforce.

On June 6, they visited AESSEAL in Rockford, which presently has about 90 employees and is training workers for a third shift.

The North American headquarters for a business based in the United Kingdom designs and makes mechanical seals, a key component in areas ranging from hot tubs to petrochemical plants.

The business uses computer-aided manufacturing and needs workers with the skills to run CNC (computer numeric control) machines that mill the high-precision parts as well as to design custom parts with software such as Solid Edge.

Accuracy is so critical that a part’s measurements must be within 1/1,000 of an inch—one-fourth the depth of a sheet of paper, Burt Galbraith explained to the students in AESSEAL’s quality assurance department.

During the week students also visited DENSO, Arconic, Newell Rubbermaid and Del Conca, a tile manufacturer in Loudon.

In the afternoons at Pellissippi State Community College in Friendsville the students had hands-on opportunities to work with some of the things they saw in the workplace, like Programmable Logic Controllers and LabVIEW engineering software.

The Young Manufacturers Academy was one of the activities funded by a $25,000 grant the Arconic Foundation awarded to Pellissippi State last year.

The community college has been spreading the message of “Dream It. Do It. Tennessee,” co-founded by the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the University of Tennessee’s Center for Industrial Services.

In May about 450 middle school students visited the Friendsville campus for Career Exploration Days, with hands-on activities in science, technology, engineering and math designed to pique their interest in pathways from school to college and careers.

Pellissippi State also offered stipends to high school teachers who worked with their students to visit middle schools and recruit students into exploring careers.

Most of the manufacturers in last week’s tour have programs with Pellissippi State that help workers advance in their career.

When Emily Pennington, AESSEAL’s human resources manager, asked students in the Young Manufacturers Academy if they had heard of apprenticeships, one replied, “Not in modern times.”

AESSEAL offers one-year apprentice programs in machining, engineering and business, during which participants work 20 hours a week at the company and attend classes.

In exchange for their education, apprentices agree to meet program standards, such as a 2.5 GPA, and work full-time for the company for two years after completing the apprenticeship.

While they are in school, their work schedule is determined by their class schedule.

“It’s much better than working at Taco Bell, I promise you that,” Pennington said.

With the combination of classroom and workplace experience, she said, “You get to see how what you’re learning is applied.”

Todd Evans, director of workforce solutions for Pellissippi State, told the students that apprenticeship programs are a “sweet deal.”

“You’re earning while you’re learning,” he said.

San Francisco prosecutors turn to AI to reduce racial bias

SAN FRANCISCO — In a first-of-its kind experiment, San Francisco prosecutors are turning to artificial intelligence to reduce racial bias in the courts, adopting a system that strips certain identifying details from police reports and leaves only key facts to govern charging decisions.

District Attorney George Gascon announced Wednesday that his office will begin using the technology in July to “take race out of the equation” when deciding whether to accuse suspects of a crime.

Criminal-justice experts say they have never heard of any project like it, and they applauded the idea as a creative, bold effort to make charging practices more colorblind.

Gascon’s office worked with data scientists and engineers at the Stanford Computational Policy Lab to develop a system that takes electronic police reports and automatically removes a suspect’s name, race and hair and eye colors. The names of witnesses and police officers will also be removed, along with specific neighborhoods or districts that could indicate the race of those involved.

“The criminal-justice system has had a horrible impact on people of color in this country, especially African Americans, for generations,” Gascon said in an interview ahead of the announcement. “If all prosecutors took race out of the picture when making charging decisions, we would probably be in a much better place as a nation than we are today.”

Gascon said his goal was to develop a model that could be used elsewhere, and the technology will be offered free to other prosecutors across the country.

“I really commend them, it’s a brave move,” said Lucy Lang, a former New York City prosecutor and executive director of the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

The technology relies on humans to collect the initial facts, which can still be influenced by racial bias. Prosecutors will make an initial charging decision based on the redacted police report. Then they will look at the entire report, with details restored, to see if there are any extenuating reasons to reconsider the first decision, Gascon said.

Lang and other experts said they look forward to seeing the results and that they expect the system to be a work in progress.

“Hats off for trying new stuff,” said Phillip Atiba Goff, president for the Center for Policing Equity. “There are so many contextual factors that might indicate race and ethnicity that it’s hard to imagine how even a human could take that all out.”

A 2017 study commissioned by the San Francisco district attorney found “substantial racial and ethnic disparities in criminal justice outcomes.” African Americans represented only 6% of the county’s population but accounted for 41% of arrests between 2008 and 2014.

The study found “little evidence of overt bias against any one race or ethnic group” among prosecutors who process criminal offenses. But Gascon said he wanted to find a way to help eliminate an implicit bias that could be triggered by a suspect’s race, an ethnic-sounding name or a crime-ridden neighborhood where they were arrested.

After it begins, the program will be reviewed weekly, said Maria Mckee, the DA’s director of analytics and research.

The move comes after San Francisco last month became the first U.S. city to ban the use of facial recognition by police and other city agencies. The decision reflected a growing backlash against AI technology as cities seek to regulate surveillance by municipal agencies.

Alcoa approves rezoned West Plant land ahead of development plans

Springbrook Farm development plans are taking a more and more visible shape as Alcoa commissioners have now moved forward plans to rezone the land for several different types of development.

Alcoa’s board of commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to approve on first reading an amendment to the city’s zoning ordinance changing what are currently “heavy industrial” and “limited restriction” districts to districts allowing three types of development.

The rezoned sections of the land are set to be used for “commercial development,” “mixed use” and “open space,” the resolution for amendment shows.

Most of the land on the Springbrook Farm property will be part of this rezoning process, but the resolution specifically names six different areas that will be affected.

A master plan for the whole project shows three of these area marked to be “open space” will be a recreational area across Lodge Street from Alcoa Intermediate School, a detention pond in the bend of Hall Road as it turns into Alcoa Highway and a small wooded area near where Pistol Creek passes under Hall Road. The three other areas include large swaths of land set to be used for commercial and mixed use development.

“We need to do this before we have the businesses coming into that area, right?” Commissioner Vaughn Belcher asked before the vote.

“Yes,” City Manager Mark Johnson replied. “A lot of the out-of-state businesses especially can run into sometimes two, three years trying to get something rezoned. When they see something was not zoned properly they get nervous about that.”

Johnson said the city has not been “in any hurry” about rezoning the property which has been subdivided into larger tracts, he added.

Movement toward a properly zoned Springbrook Farm is set to pave the way for developers who Johnson indicated later in the meeting may start work as early as this summer.

City Planner Jeremy Pearson confirmed to Johnson during the meeting that platting of the area would begin first and hopefully development would follow.

After the city’s vote later in the meeting to raise property taxes from $1.96 per $100 of assessed value to $2.27, city officials have emphasized the importance of the Springbrook Farm development to the city’s fiscal future.

Its fiscal present and past has had its share of struggles after 2019 expenses went nearly $1 million over budget, partially prompting the property tax hike.

Expressing concerns for Alcoa’s community, commissioners Ken White and Jim Buchanan voted not to approve the budget and included tax raise. The rest of the commission voted yes Tuesday.

A variety of different developments are planned for the Springbrook Farm area according to real estate officials involved. The area is set essentially to be a kind of city center for Alcoa.

Efforts to plat the site are also in process and the city plans to begin construction on Marconi Boulevard — a street connecting Hall Road and the Alcoa School area — soon.

A deed for the street’s right-of-way was finalized and recorded in May.