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Flowery Branch STEM students tour Oakwood paint plant
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STEM students from Flowery Branch High School tour PPG paint manufacturing facility Tuesday morning in Oakwood. The science, technology, engineering and math students also met with U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, as part of National Manufacturing Day. - photo by Scott Rogers

As a paid intern, Sarah Slavik knows her way around PPG in Oakwood, but Tuesday’s tour with fellow Flowery Branch High School students was still appreciated.

“I’ve learned a lot of stuff here from people here,” said the 18-year-old senior. “I can tell you almost every single name (of employees).”

She toured the paint manufacturing and distribution plant off W White Road with about 25 science, technology, engineering and math students as part of the PPG’s observance of National Manufacturing Day.

The group got to see robotics in action, watching as a machine slapped lids on paint cans and tightly wrapped a bundle of cans in plastic.

“That was really cool,” said Avery Whitinger, 18.

Students got detailed explanations from workers on how the plant makes its 100,000 gallons per day, tints paint for special contractor orders and ships them to stores, among many other daily tasks.

“My favorite part is the laboratory and seeing how the paints work,” said Slavik, who has applied to several schools but is especially favoring the University of Alabama.

In the lab, sophomore Sophia Le stirred paint in a container as PPG employee Andy Todebush poured in acid to thicken the substance.

She was chosen at random for the demonstration, but that was fine by her.

“I personally like chemistry,” said Le, who is considering a career as a radiology technician.

PPG officials talked about various careers in the plant, with several employees talking about their duties.

“Every job is different — they have their pluses and minuses — and not every job is for everyone,” plant manager Alex George told the students.

“For me, manufacturing is cool because there are so many kinds of technology,” he said. “I get to see so many different things.”

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, addressed students before they embarked on a 2-hour tour of the 85-employee plant.

“Folks in manufacturing are some of the best people in the world,” he said. “At the end of the day, they look at that pallet, that product, that truck, and they say, ‘We’ve accomplished something that’s going to help somebody else.’”

Pursuing a career in STEM “or anything in life (means) you’ve got to be willing to put in the time, effort and work (ethic),” Collins said.

National Manufacturing Day is an initiative organized by the National Association of Manufacturers “that aims to address the skilled labor shortage, connect with future generations of manufacturers and ensure the ongoing success of the manufacturing industry,” a PPG press release states.

George said he hoped such an experience would “spark students’ interest in the manufacturing industry.”

Christy Carter, Work-Based Learning coordinator at Flowery Branch High, was hoping for the same.

“We’re trying to highlight this facility and that manufacturing … is in our backyard,” she said. “We want to let the students know what opportunities are here.”