Rocket Manufacturing launches STEM BEST to new heights

students from Rock Valley Community School District learning from STEM Best model
Myles Van Maanen, a senior at Rock Valley High School, is one of several students experiencing and producing real-world products at Rocket Manufacturing, a 2014 STEM BEST model awardee.

Don’t be fooled by the name. Rocket Manufacturing doesn’t build rockets—at least not yet. For now, the program at Rock Valley High School operates as one of Iowa’s STEM BEST (Businesses Engaging Students and Teachers) models that build powerful school+business partnerships in communities across the state.

Rock Valley Community School District received a STEM BEST award to help launch the program in 2014 that has grown into a fully-functional, student-led business, serving local businesses as a subcontractor and supplying machine parts and tools the companies request.

More than 10 industry partners have supported Rocket Manufacturing by providing equipment and donations, including a $50,000 software from a local machine shop and $70,000 worth of equipment from Northwest Iowa Community College. The lead instructor for Rocket Manufacturing even spent six weeks last summer training with various businesses to ensure he had a well-rounded experience with bookkeeping, marketing, machine work, sales, engineering and more. In fact, Valley Machining Company, just a few blocks from the school, offers students unlimited support from its employees.

“If they need help with programming a machine or learning a new software, all they need to do is call us and we’ll send someone over to help,” said Tony Rau, engineering and sales manager at Valley Machining Company. “Rocket Manufacturing gives students an opportunity to see job opportunities at different levels, and we would be overjoyed to hire someone coming out of high school with the basic technical and soft skills learned in this program.”

This financial and educational support led to the creation of Rocket Manufacturing’s 10,000 square foot machine shop with all of the latest CNC technologies. Besides developing the hands-on, technical skills, students experience communication, collaboration and other soft skills necessary to function in a business environment.

As word spreads about the program, Rock Valley Superintendent Chad Janzen says community support continues to grow along with the interests of his students who want to participate in the program next year, which is expected to expand from 13 to 20 students this fall.

For more information about Rocket Manufacturing, visit their profile on our website at

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