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In a large, blue factory just off Skyway Drive, hundreds of Safran Cabin workers weave through workshops and workstations to build and test the company's specialized aircraft cabin components.

Everything from sinks and mirrors to side walls, overhead storage bins and passenger service units — the ceiling-mounted contraptions that passengers use to turn on the light and air or request assistance from flight attendants — roll out of the Santa Maria factory.

Some are found in the smallest of private jets to the Airbus A380, the world's largest passenger airliner.

"Essentially, everything you can see when you're sitting down in your seat, we make here or at our other sites," explained Brian Hughes, the plant's operations manager. "It's exciting to see how things you see when you're sitting on an airplane get built."

Due to the proprietary nature of the company's work, members of the public are rarely — if ever — allowed to venture past the offices and onto the factory floor.

But on Wednesday, a group of 50 seventh- and eighth-graders from Santa Maria area schools were treated to a tour and inside look at the company's operations as part of a multiday event designed to connect professionals in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, careers with local students

"We're introducing different industry professionals to students that might be interested in STEM disciplines," Vicki Conner, initiatives director for EconAlliance, said of the group's annual STEM Industry Days program.

"If a student has nobody in their family that has a college education, or nobody that [works in] a STEM discipline, they have a chance to meet an engineer."

The program has grown since 2017, when it provided workshops and tours to 60 students living in People's Self-Help Housing developments.

Now in its third year, the program has since expanded to include students from Lompoc and Santa Ynez. Approximately 200 students from elementary to high school are expected to participate by fall 2019.

Kristin Halter, a fifth- and sixth-grade math and science teacher on special assignment with the Santa Maria-Bonita School District, said students who participate in the program are exposed to well-paying jobs they might not have known existed.

"We can drive by a building ... and they may not have really understood what that was," she said. "We're learning more about what those companies are here and what their jobs are."

The Santa Maria facility's history dates back to the 1970s, when C&D Aerospace established it as a local division of its multinational operation.

Now one of seven Safran Cabin facilities in California and 30 across the globe, the company's Santa Maria facility employs roughly 450 people.

Their education and backgrounds vary widely, according to Hughes; some have a high school diploma or have completed certificate programs, while others hold bachelor's or master's degrees in various engineering specializations.

"It's not a requirement to have a college degree," Hughes told the group. "If you're looking to put in the work and willing to put in the time to learn a craft, you can work your way up."

Seventy-two fifth- and sixth-grade students are expected to participate during Thursday's session.

A separate Industry Days program for Santa Maria and Santa Ynez high school students is planned for fall.

Reach reporter Mathew Burciaga at 805-739-2205 or mburciaga@leecentralcoastnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @mathewburciaga

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Education Reporter

Mathew Burciaga is a Santa Maria Times reporter who covers education, agriculture and public safety. Prior to joining the Times, Mathew ran a 114-year-old community newspaper in Wyoming. He owns more than 40 pairs of crazy socks from across the globe.