Student

Dakota Harrison

  • Automated Manufacturing & Machining

His passion for precision machining was ignited in high school. After just one visit to Penn College with his vocational program, Dakota knew this was the place for him. He was impressed by the expansive labs and couldn’t wait to join the Baja team—a club that would enrich his student experience beyond his wildest expectations.

 

Dakota Harrison
TAKING THE LEAD

Q&A with Dakota

HOW DID YOU LEARN ABOUT PENN COLLEGE?

I began my search for college during high school when my class from Cumberland Perry Area Career & Technical Center toured Penn College. I was at votech for precision machining technology and wanted to find an environment where I could continue developing my skills in the trade.

WHAT APPEALED TO YOU MOST?

The hands-on teaching methodology of Penn College was by far the most alluring aspect that I noticed when touring for the first time. Like many who gravitate towards Penn College, I am a hands-on learner.

I do my best work when the fruits of my labor are a product that I can be proud of. The samples of class projects along with the number of machines available made it clear to me that Penn College could provide an excellent outlet for my passion in this trade.

DURING YOUR FIRST VISIT, WHAT MADE A LASTING IMPRESSION?

When I first entered the MTC, even as it was before it was transformed by Larry Ward, I was in awe of the scale of the shop and the number of machines available. I had been in industry and seen other machine shops, but I had never expected an educational institution would be working with such a great number of machines. Between manual equipment, a few CNC controls, and the EDM area I could tell very quickly that the Penn College machine shop was somewhere I could become a well-rounded manufacturing engineer. 

AND THIS IS WHEN YOU DISCOVERED BAJA?

Of course, speaking of my impression of the College would be incomplete without mentioning the Baja SAE team. Seeing the car and the Baja team at work during my first tour had me immediately convinced that before I had even decided where I wanted to go to college, I knew I wanted to participate in a Baja competition. It did not take long to see that Penn College was my best choice for my major, and my passion for racing.

 

HOW IS PENN COLLEGE HELPING YOU DESIGN THE CAREER OF YOUR DREAMS?

My experience at Penn College has shifted the scope of my goals from a desire to develop skills and begin a career as a machinist, to establishing a manufacturing company and race team in the powersports aftermarket. While my initial machining classes built a solid foundation for the rest of my college career, the later adjacent classes in subjects I was unfamiliar with helped me get better at stepping out of my comfort zone. After being exposed to some basic hydraulics, PLC programming, and lean manufacturing principles I was experienced in evolving with my subject matter just in time for my greatest challenge at the College. 

TELL US MORE ABOUT BAJA?

Helping lead the Baja team has by far been the most influential experience in the foundation of my career path. In this position, I am not only met with a great deal of my own adversity, but I regularly help lead others through theirs. When bearing the weight of this responsibility, along with the pressure of the Baja competition, there is no time for self-doubt. Thus, the single most crucial lesson in my time at Penn College; the relentless elimination of self-doubt. Not simply the belief that I CAN do anything, but the refusal to accept that I CAN NOT. Even if my goal is something I am not currently capable of, the only thing preventing me from growing to the point in which I am, is myself. It was with this mentality that I realized my dream career path stretched further than I had previously imagined.

WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE PROFESSOR AND WHY?

My favorite professor is John Upcraft, the faculty advisor to the Baja team. I may not have had any classroom instruction from John within the curriculum, but he is easily the faculty member who I have had the most time with. John is certainly a harsh critic which makes his feedback incredibly valuable as he will not hesitate to tell you when something you are doing is wrong.

WHY IS THIS FEEDBACK IMPORTANT?

The manufacturing industry is vast and grows every day which makes catching up from the starting line more difficult. A new machinist needs someone who will show them just how much better their work could be in order to reach their full potential. John is well aware of this and will not shy away from critiquing someone’s work even if they might have believed they were achieving the best result they could. John is also very adept at delivering compliments, or more accurately, not delivering compliments. John is very sparing with his compliments, not dishing them out every time he is shown a workpiece from a student. When he does compliment your work, you know without a shadow of a doubt that he appreciates the quality of your work making each one worth its weight in gold.

ANY ADVICE FOR FUTURE STUDENTS?

Even if your passion drives you towards something which can not form a career, follow it anyways. Not blindly, but with an open mind looking for ways in which that passion can drive a career. While I do love manufacturing, my passion is truly driven by a love for motorsports. Racing is far from a viable career. It’s a rather expensive hobby on its own. However, through constantly keeping my eyes open for ways in which to apply myself creatively to motorsport, I have found a way to channel that into something valuable enough to form a company to produce.

HOW HAS BAJA INFLUENCED YOUR LEADERSHIP STYLE?

When I first entered the Baja team, there was a very talented group ahead of me and I spent my first two years learning as much as I could from them. After COVID-19 brought the spring 2020 semester to an early end, all of a sudden I was one of the board members on the club I had yet learn how to run. Instead of showing up looking for instructions on what to work on, it was up to me to determine my own actions and drive the club forward. Now instead of just contributing, my actions defined the club.

AND WHAT WAS THAT LIKE?

I struggled a lot with the burden of expectations that came from the group before me. I looked up to that group in a way that made it seem impossible to fill their shoes when it was my turn. It was through this struggle that I finally accepted myself, not as one to follow in someone else’s footsteps, but to forge my own path towards our team's goal.

I view leadership not as individuals filling roles left behind, but as driven members of a team recognizing their own talents and where they can be applied. No one on this team leads alone. We are a collective of pillars in our community who bear the weight of our team. As each generation takes over for the last, new pillars are inspired by those before them. Bearing the same weight that their predecessors did in their own unique position. As the club and the number of people becoming pillars grows, the potential of the team as a whole grows as well.

HOW HAS THE LARRY A. WARD '66 MACHINING TECHNOLOGIES CENTER ENHANCED YOUR EXPERIENCE?

The transformation of the MTC caused a shift in the way students learn machining basics, learning on manual machines to start while being exposed to the idea of CNC earlier. A teacher is faced with a unique challenge when deciding how to introduce new people into the machining trade. Too much CNC work early on and the student struggles with the practical application of their programming. Too little and a student who understands how to use their tools well struggles to trust a computer to do what they can do by hand. Thanks to Larry Ward the massive number of Prototrak conversational CNC machines in the MTC have revolutionized the way Penn College can solve this problem.

TOMORROW IS IN THE MAKING AT PENN COLLEGE. HOW HAVE YOU SEEN THIS COME TO LIFE?

I can see now, on the horizon of my tomorrow that my experience at Penn College is what allowed me to make it here. Whether it be a wide-eyed high school graduate just looking for their career path they have yet to discover, an individual with a vision they aren’t quite prepared to create, or someone looking to turn a new leaf and begin a new career, Penn College has cultivated an environment in which anyone can become a tomorrow maker. I have seen this from my own experiences and my peers. Those who succeed at Penn College are those who see what they wish their future to be and work to make it a reality. A future made here is one made by hand.

WHAT ARE YOUR POST-GRADUATION PLANS?

After graduating I plan to begin working full time for my current employer, Flex-Cell Precision, Inc. I started my first internship with them the summer following my freshman year. Starting with basic undercut setups and operation, I worked my way up learning something new from every job setup until I was working on more advanced projects and lining myself up to make the jump to five-axis machining shortly after graduating. It is at this point when I will be able to direct my focus more towards automation and lights-out machining, utilizing concepts from “industry 4.0” to improve the way the company handles automated production.

WHAT IS YOUR DREAM JOB?

It is to establish a company manufacturing parts for the powersports aftermarket. Starting small by purchasing machines one at a time to build my home shop alongside my day job, until through racing, prototyping, and forging a reputation of excellent quality, I am able to produce enough to make it my full-time job. This company would include custom manufacturing along with tube frame fabrication, and maintenance to form a one stop shop for anyone looking to join the powersports community.

Student Experience

"Those who say that when you work doing what you love, it doesn’t feel like work at all are far off from reality. Work is still work. A machine failure is still stressful even if that machine is producing a product you are passionate about. In those moments where circumstances seem hopeless, and failure imminent, it is the passion at your core which will give you the strength to persevere and achieve what seemed at one point impossible."

Dakota Harrison

News
Adopting a pay-it-forward approach

Adopting a pay-it-forward approach

Given his major and involvement with Baja, Dakota was a natural choice to speak on behalf of the countless students to benefit from the generosity of Larry A. Ward—an alumnus and donor who made recent renovations possible. Dakota said he appreciates the knowledge mentors shared with him and tries to pass along his experience with newer students.

Check out the story

News

See Baja in action

A student-driven partnership between the Baja team and the heavy construction equipment technology program resulted in the creation of a quarter-mile test track through the woods at the College's operations training site near Allenwood. The track replicates conditions the team will face at Baja competitions conducted by SAE International, an organization for engineering professionals.

Check out the story

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Automated Manufacturing & Machining

Hone the technical skills you need to be a part of a rapidly growing career field. Take the lead in this technology-driven field. 

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