SKOWHEGAN — The new director of the Somerset Career & Technical Center said his experience with the Air Force, Sappi Fine Paper and teaching electronics engineering and robotics soon will make the center one of the best in the state.

The plan, said center director David Dorr, is to create direct links between students and area businesses for instruction and hands-on experience to prepare them for the workplace and for further studies after high school.

He said the center’s direction is not just to prepare students to enter the workforce after high school, but to continue their education to be able to compete for jobs at the highest level. He said the basic skills to get a job after graduation are essential, but higher education also is important.

Dorr serves on the governor’s 12-member STEM Council — short for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The council’s goal is to strengthen the workforce through instruction in high school. He also is a board member of the Somerset Economic Development Corp., which also connects him to local institutions and businesses.

He said he has begun work with Skowhegan high school principal Rick Wilson to create a pre-engineering course of studies for a future STEM academy.

“We want to have the kids start using the project-based stuff here and collaborating with the physics teachers and English teachers,” he said. “We started our first robotics team here — 120-pound robots that are 5 feet tall — we have 11 kids on there now.”

There are about 4,000 such teams in the United States.

The career center’s robotics team received a $6,500 sponsorship from Fairchild Semiconductor and a matching grant from NASA to establish the team for competition beginning in January.

“My background in what I did in industry was trouble shooting, problem solving, critical thinking; so if something went down and needed to be fixed, my job was to find a solution,” he said. “Instead of looking at the center as a smaller system, we’re looking at the school as a big system.”

The center serves about 335 high school juniors and seniors from Skowhegan, Carrabec, Valley, Madison and Pittsfield high schools. Course work includes carpentry, automotive mechanics, information technology, digital graphic arts, health, outdoor leadership, residential electricity and culinary arts.

Since Dorr, 52, came on board at the start of the current school year, the 15 instructors at the center have split into groups that visit area schools and businesses including Cianbro, Sappi, New Balance, Redington-Fairview General Hospital, the University of Maine and Madison Paper Co.

“We don’t want to be the best-kept secret anymore,” he said. “We had people coming in saying, ‘Oh, I didn’t know you fixed cars,’ ‘I didn’t know you had a student-run restaurant.’”

Dorr taught pre-engineering robotics for 12 years at Sanford Regional Technical Center before coming to Skowhegan. He spent 61/2 years in the Air Force, leaving as a staff sergeant.

Dorr then went to work in electronics for nine years at the Sappi mill in Westbrook. When the pulp mill closed in Westbrook, Dorr, a native of North Yarmouth, finished his bachelor’s degree in education and later earned a master’s degree in education at the University of Southern Maine.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367
dharlow@centralmaine.com