Ferris State CAD Students Have a Near-100% Job Placement Rate
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on December 21, 2017 | | 4456 views

While the oft-neglected humanities may provide university students with the tools for critical and creative thinking, in the United States, science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is often where the jobs are, and Ferris State University Professor Dan Wanink has a remarkable success rate in preparing his students for the work force straight out of college.

An injection mold design made in Solid Edge for Dan Wanink’s CAD Drafting & Tool Design class. (Image courtesy of Ferris State University.)
An injection mold design made in Solid Edge for Dan Wanink’s CAD Drafting & Tool Design class. (Image courtesy of Ferris State University.) 

Wanink’s CAD Drafting & Tool Design Technology (CDTD) program gives his students the skills they need to not only obtain an associate’s degree, but to land a job with industry as well. In fact, Wanink says that he has a remarkable near-100 percent job placement rate.

To what does Wanink attribute his success? He teaches CAD using real-world, hands-on projects that are directly applicable to the tooling industry. To learn more, we spoke to Wanink, learning about his teaching method, his CAD tool of choice and a few educational tips he picked up on a recent trip to Finland to study their education system.

From CAD Student to Teacher

Located in Big Rapids, Mich., Ferris State is home to over 14,000 students. The CDTD program in particular is within the College of Engineering Technology, one of the two largest such colleges in the U.S.

Wanink has been in the CAD world for over 25 years, first studying 2D CAD as a 17-year-old high school student in 1991. “I’ve basically grown up in the CAD world, from working in 2D to wireframe modeling to surface modeling to solid modeling to parametric modeling,” Wanink said. “My students tease me that I bleed CAD.”

Not only has Wanink been using and teaching CAD for years, but the start of the CDTD program at Ferris State University has been in place for 70 years. The CDTD program was founded in 1947 as the Mechanical Drafting program and began with just seven students. The CDTD program has a major focus on the design of tooling to mass produce products.

“Our program is 70 years old, starting with the drafting board days of manufacturing products—designing the molds, dies and fixtures,” Wanink explained. “We’ve got a long-standing history in Michigan and the U.S. In the Midwest, we’re really known for our toolmakers, tool design, fabrication and production. It’s sort of a natural fit that we’ve been doing this for so long and providing graduates to the various manufacturing businesses.”

Wanink’s students learn how to create real-world tooling designs. (Image courtesy of Ferris State University.)
Wanink’s students learn how to create real-world tooling designs. (Image courtesy of Ferris State University.)

And, while any CAD program might be able to supply students with CAD skills, those skills may not always translate to the real world. For this reason, Ferris State and Wanink’s program, specifically, aim to train students in how to design tooling that is used by the manufacturing industry. There’s even an industry advisory board, in which regional business leaders meet with the school once a year to provide updates on trends within tooling, CAD and manufacturing, which ultimately informs the curriculum.

The same injection mold is rendered photorealistically. (Image courtesy of Ferris State University.)
The same injection mold is rendered photorealistically. (Image courtesy of Ferris State University.)

“I really believe in a project-based curriculum,” Wanink said. “The students in our program learn everything hands-on. We do use textbooks to enhance our instruction and teach students why and how to use industrial practices through the use of software features, but it’s all based on industrial products and practices.”

Wanink said that the majority of his students go on to have summer experiences working in the industry and gain additional experience to enhance their college education. Students who graduate from the program go on to be employed in the automotive, consumer products, medical, furniture, heavy equipment, recreational vehicles, aerospace and marine industries.

As if job placement weren’t enough of a demonstration of his program’s success, Wanink’s students have also ranked highly in a competitive program called SkillsUSA, which he describes as “like the Olympics for career-focused individuals.” A multimillion dollar event that spans an area the size of 16 football fields, SkillsUSA features over 100 contests all focused on career-related skills, from plumbing to cosmetology, manufacturing and design.


Students first compete at the school level, then a regional level, then a state level, with only the first place winners of each state moving onto nationals. Every year, Wanink coaches students interested in participating in the SkillsUSA Technical Drafting and Automated Manufacturing Technology competitions.

“I’m a competitive person, so our students are well-coached and trained. We spend extra time outside of class with the students who want to participate. Since I became the coordinator of our SkillsUSA program in 2006, I’ve had a state national champion that has gone onto nationals to compete in technical drafting and automated manufacturing every year,” Wanink said. “Since 2006, I have trained and coached eight national medalists that have come from the CDTD program.”

Using Solid Edge to Teach CAD and Manufacturing

Though he’s used a variety of platforms over the past 25 years, Wanink chooses to teach his students design using Solid Edge from Siemens.

“Solid Edge is a really user-friendly package,” Wanink said. “The learning curve is not very hard on it, but it has so much built into it that you just continuously add onto what you can learn. For a student with zero experience, it’s not intimidating as long as they have good instruction and instructional resources available. Yet they can still grow within the software; learning methods and ‘tricks’ to increase their productivity. Also, the support from Solid Edge is excellent. They provide an academic version to each one of our students so they can have it on their laptops and take it where they want to go and not have to be isolated to using it in the classroom.”

As a fun and engaging project, Wanink’s students are asked to design tooling that can be used to create playground equipment. (Image courtesy of Ferris State University.)
As a fun and engaging project, Wanink’s students are asked to design tooling that can be used to create playground equipment. (Image courtesy of Ferris State University.)

This year, his freshman CAD students are assigned a project to design a playground learning to develop plastic and metal playground components, examining local playgrounds and designing new parts. They are required to design the parts so that they can be manufacturable; not just a “pretty picture.” This, Wanink thinks, due to their childhood experience and the size of the structure it is a bit easier to understand without having much specific experience, unlike, say, a car engine or similar manufactured products, which may have intricate parts that would be difficult to access in the field.

“They’re not just making a pretty picture or a concept,” Wanink said. “They have to actually create something that can be manufactured and determine how the proper tooling would be made to do it. It’s an entry-level CAD class, but it ends up being a pretty intermediate level class by the time they’re done which the students also learn about how things are actually manufactured. They’re using all of basic commands of Solid Edge—they have to put an assembly together and develop a parts list. When they turn in their binder, it has about two inches of documentation detailing all of the parts that they’ve developed, designed and assembled in a team format.”

In the second semester of the program, students actually fabricate parts as well. In a Shark Tank-style project, teams of students have to develop products or improve existing products. They then prototype the products with the help of the school’s makerspace and create presentations for the class.

“In Solid Edge, we make actual working models. Students can see their mechanisms work on the computer prior to manufacturing it,” Wanink explained. “Last year a team of students developed a light that can be fastened to safety goggles, ski goggles or a scuba mask. They actually prototyped a working model of their light. You could see how it fit onto a pair of ski goggles and turn the light on and off.”

Different Educational Models

Though Wanink has been teaching for quite awhile, he’s still learning himself. Most recently, he took a trip to Finland, where he and other teachers observed how the Finnish education system operates from daycare all the way up to the university level.

At the University of Oulo, Wanink sat in on classes similar to his own, including a topic that he lectures on in the States. Unlike his own school, in which buildings are separated and dedicated to specific disciplines, all of the wings of the University of Oulo are dedicated to a discipline but are connected, encouraging an interdisciplinary mindset.

He also marveled at the fact that education is free in Finland, even at the university level. The nation’s small population of almost 5.5 million people also enables Finland’s Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment to manage the flow of students to various job sectors. If a given market has a specific number of openings, the government will work to ensure that only that number of students pursues that particular profession.

Though the school had similar facilities with cutting-edge technology, including a makerspace with 3D printers and laser cutters, he also noted that some departments were struggling with equipment needs. At Ferris State, however, industry support ensures that every lab has the best equipment available.

Nevertheless, Wanink’s observations seemed to support the oft-cited fact that Finns are among the happiest people in the world. “They’re well taken care of [by the government]. They make a reasonable living. For instance, their standard workweek is 35 hours and they don’t perform a lot of overtime due to government regulations, so they really do appreciate the time spent with their families,” Wanink relayed.

It wasn’t just engineers who were financially secure, either. Wanink made the observation common to Americans in Europe that tipping is not customary at restaurants. He soon learned that this was due to the fact that, based on Finnish laws, even servers earn a living wage.

This compares to the U.S., where, in some states, servers can make as little as $2.13 per hour before tips. Even the minimum wage for non-tipped employees fails to cover basic needs, making the issue a battleground for groups like the Fight for $15 movement, which seeks to drive the federal minimum wage up to living wage standards while also supporting the rights of workers to form unions.

Until similar regulations to those in place in Finland find their way to the United States, the engineering market is a lucrative one, Wanink noted. “So few people know about jobs in this arena—the engineering and manufacturing world,” Wanink said. “A lot of the high school students aren’t looking at this as a career and yet it’s very in-demand, very high skill and very high pay. When you look at statistics for employability from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, any field in the entire manufacturing and design arena is short on skilled people right now.”

Wanink is doing his part to fill that gap in his home of Big Rapids, Mich., where his students first pick up the tools to build tooling and then enter the job market with a near-100 percent success rate. In fact, he’s even moved onto younger generations with a summer camp dedicated to teaching Solid Edge to high school and middle school kids. With students traveling from as far as New York, Texas and Wisconsin, the annual classes address the needs of technically-minded students missed by summer programs dedicated to music and sports, according to Wanink.

In other words, not only is Wanink training the next generation of engineers, but the generation after that. To learn more about his CDTD program, visit the program website.


Siemens has sponsored this article. It has provided no editorial input other than verification of the technical facts. All opinions are mine. —Michael Molitch-Hou


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