OAKLAND -- Over the humming, whirring and clanging of the Laney College machine shop, 17-year-old Eliezer Mendoza explained how he was using a mill to make a stand for his model car.

"For this piece, I'm going to do three-quarters of an inch. And after that, I'm just going to power-tap it," he said, narrating each step as he went along.

Mendoza wants to be an architect, not a machinist. And some of the teenagers in safety glasses around him, who pulled levers and tramped through piles of discarded metal, also expressed nonmanufacturing career interests: theater, art, computer science -- even psychotherapy.

The free iDesign-M summer program, held at Laney College and funded by the Bechtel Foundation and Logitech, exposes students to the world of manufacturing and product design -- a field that is absent from many high schools. For two weeks, 15 high school students from Oakland, San Leandro and Livermore sketched their ideas on paper or with a computer and then figured out how to make them from blocks of aluminum.

The program's director, Mark Martin, said his goal is to introduce teenagers to the experience of using their hands -- and to get some of them thinking about careers in manufacturing.

At a Twitter Town Hall event this month, President Barack Obama again spoke of his desire to shore up the nation's advanced manufacturing sector.


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High-skilled, well-paying manufacturing jobs already exist in the Bay Area, Martin said, but few students know about them. He said it's important for kids to understand the basics of machining, even if they want to be product designers or engineers. "No matter how advanced a product you have, you have to make it out of physical goods," he said.

Valencia Clark, a student at San Leandro High, wants to study computer science and art in college. Still, she said, "Who knows when I might actually need these skills? I might get a job with it."

Read Katy Murphy's Oakland schools blog at IBAbuzz.com/education.