ST. JOSEPH — Abby Kuespert wants to light things up.

That’s why she’s interested in electrical engineering and joined her high school’s robotics team.

“My dad is an electrical engineer and I kind of want to follow in his footsteps,” she said Friday. “I never had the opportunity to do something like this until I got into robotics. I think it’s kind of cool to point at something and be able to say ‘I made that’ or ‘I built that.’”

Kuespert was one of the hundreds of students who flooded the grounds at Bosch in St. Joseph to learn about the area’s fastest-growing industry. Known as Manufacturing Day, the annual event has become a celebration of an industry that has been on the rise in recent years – especially in Southwest Michigan.

So when Bosch was approached last summer to host the 2017 event, it seemed like a no brainier to Karri Withrow.

“One of our engineers in this facility attended last year’s event at Kay (Manufacturing),” said Withrow, a human resources manager at Bosch. “He said, ‘We have to do this. It would be really wonderful.’”

At the St. Joseph plant, which specializes in medium to heavy truck brakes, Bosch said they wanted to host the event because it would give students and community members a chance to see what was going on inside.

“It gives them the opportunity to see what we do locally and the other products we make,” she said. “Hopefully we’ve sparked some enthusiasm with these students to take on STEM careers.”

Withrow had many different roles in organizing the manufacturing event with Kinexus, which included providing exhibitor space, a plant tour for each wave of students, and an instructional video to play on a loop in the break room.

A lot of schools within the tri-county area were present, as more than 900 students from 13 schools were on Bosch’s grounds Friday. Many of the schools have added programs geared toward high school students in getting them interested in a career that goes outside the traditional four-year degree.

“Manufacturing is making a comeback, specifically in our area,” Withrow said. “We’re all going to have the same issues with hiring qualified people. If we start now and everybody does their part to be part of the solution, then maybe it won’t be such a big deal when we get to that point.”

In addition to learning what was made at the plant, students spoke with employees about what they could expect in the field.

There were robotics teams from St. Joseph and Lakeshore high schools on hand to demonstrate what they did last year as well.

Kuespert was driving the Average Joe’s washer bot that shoots T-shirts. She fielded questions and had some of her own for the companies that were present Friday.

She’s exhibited at the Berrien County Youth Fair and has programmed singing lightbulbs. Now that she’s on a robotics team, Kuespert said she’s found her place.

“Electrical isn’t just wiring,” she said. “I like to tie things together and makes things work.”

Alex Jeske had a booth set up to show off the electric car that Lakeshore High School modifies each year. As a senior, Jeske has taken auto and welding shop, but plans to be a diesel technician.

“We contacted Bosch about sponsoring our (electric) car and they asked us to come out here today,” he said. “I always liked the idea of designing my own car from scratch, but that’s pretty far out.”

Since Withrow works in human resources, she said she has a vested interest in getting students like Jeske and Kuespert in the talent pipeline that runs through Southwest Michigan.

“The more young candidates we can get into this now, the better,” she said. “Manufacturing is not what it used to be. They’ll see how bright and airy the work space is now.”

Contact: twittkowski@TheHP.com, 932-0358, Twitter: @TonyWittkowski