The water shot off the metal plate, filling the air with a cooling mist.
A few feet away were sunflowers of all shapes and sizes, glistening in the light.
It’s midday and camp is in full swing, with students moving from station to station. But at this summer camp, there are no canoes or s’mores over a bonfire. Here, they grind away at an artform that holds the attention of everyone.
Welcome to Fab Camp, where you can make a “cool piece of junk” and bring it home to your parents.
For the past two weeks, middle school-aged students from surrounding districts have come to this camp at Madison Area Technical College-Fort Atkinson to grind, weld and create art. And in the process, learn a valuable trade with cutting-edge technology.
Roger Bratberg, the teacher behind this creative camp, said the project has grown extremely fast in only its second year. And there is one reason behind the success.
“We have a lot of fun,” he said.
But the process of learning at this camp begins long before sparks start to fly. It starts in a classroom filled with computers.
Fab Camp blends metal fabrication and the latest computer programs. And if that sounds complicated, well, it is.
“One of the first things we do is introduce them to the software,” Bratberg said.
And with that software, each student starts by creating a large metal sunflower.
“Everyone has made what they like for their version of a sunflower,” Bratberg said, as students held up samples. “So the popularity of the program is the creative side of things.”
While students are getting exposed to welding, cutting and forming, the class is about so much more. The idea is to show the students how much advancement the industry has seen.
“And this is an opportunity to help their parents understand (what modern manufacturing looks like),” said Nicole Thompson, community relations director for MATC.
Rylee Brattlie, a student from Cambridge, said her father is all for the class. And her mom is a little worried about safety.
But safety is something Bratberg stresses throughout every process.
Fab Camp runs for two weeks at MATC with the second week being an advanced course.
By getting the students focused on this at an early age, they then have the opportunity to check out classes in high school that might be more advanced, Bratberg said. And get an idea what a career would look like.
On Tuesday, students like Brattlie were working on a campfire piece for their families. The three pieces will be assembled and can be brought anywhere. Students can design whatever image they want on a computer. Then the shape is cut out with a high-pressure water machine.
“I love this because we get to do multiple things. And this opens us up for different opptortunities,” Brattlie said.
The program is funded by Nuts, Bolts and Thingamajigs, a national foundation that offers manufacturing camps and scholarships.
Maria McClellan, regional campus manager at MATC, said the camp had 12 people in its first year, and 15 for the second camp this year. There now is a large waiting list.
“Next year, we will try to get to three camps,” McClellan said.
With former students coming back to help guide others, there are enough teachers in the program so there are one per four students. That allows teachers to guide students through the design process all the way to the finished product. Students also get to have their own input on what they want to create.
There’s even a sculpture the class has been working on called “A Cool Piece of Junk,” which resembles a trophy.
“They had two hours to build whatever they wanted,” Bratberg said.
The program runs from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. each weekday, giving the students a glimpse at a workday. They meet in a classroom then work their way around a shop to different stations — from a machine that uses high-pressure water to grinding and even welding areas.
And it’s those moments in the classroom the students can show their creative side.
“The neat thing about this is you will be sitting here with your own designs — another level of their own creation,” Bratberg said. “ And you come in and they will wow you.”