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Graduate builds on machining skills

May 23rd, 2017

By Ashley Sloboda | The Journal Gazette

To the casual viewer, a dinosaur in “Jurassic Park” might be just another example of movie magic, but North Side High School senior Henry Burk sees the machinery involved in building the beast.

His perspective makes sense. Burk, who turns 18 this week, has prop-making aspirations, a path influenced by his soon-to-be alma mater.

He and other students countywide will soon fill Memorial Coliseum and other venues for graduation. The high school commencement season begins Friday in Allen County with Bishop Dwenger's and Bishop Luers' ceremonies.

Burk is expected to graduate from North Side on June 10, but it won't be his first such ceremony. He graduated May 12 from Ivy Tech Community College Northeast with a technical certificate in precision machining.

He ranks among the best high school machinists, at least according to the annual High School Machining Competition presented by the Indiana Tooling and Machining Association. Participants are given timed tasks that test their skills in such areas as milling and grinding, Burk said, and they are judged on their precision and how much of the task they were able to complete.

Since debuting in 15th place as a sophomore, Burk returned to the competition with improved skills. He placed fourth and fifth as a junior and senior.

North Side educator Phil Springer, who teaches advanced manufacturing and logistics, said he has sent students to the competition for three years. None of his other students has bested Burk's fourth-place finish, he said.

“He has a lot of enthusiasm for understanding how something works and how to solve problems,” Springer said.

Machining lets Burk work with metal, a material he couldn't manipulate until he had access to North Side's machine shop, the teen said.

Growing up, Burk said, he was lucky to have parents who let him explore his creativity and try to fix broken household items. He also credits his technical talent to an elementary school teacher who, on rainy days, would let students take devices apart.

Weisser Park Elementary School art teacher Byron Thompson also influenced him, said Burk, who called the educator an inspiration.

“He always drove us to create,” Burk said.

Thompson remembers Burk and his tendency to quietly figure things out. While other students would glue pieces of cardboard together, he said, Burk would be building structures from a box of wood scraps he found.

It wasn't that he was trying to be an overachiever, the teacher said; “He liked to experiment and play around with things.”

Burk also made an impression at Ottenweller Co., where he completed a six-week internship. Human resources manager Joyce Moran said in an email he ran a CNC machining center, milling and inspecting steel components.

His maturity and confidence impressed her during his initial interview, she said, and he surpassed expectations during his internship.

“He has a tremendous can-do attitude and work ethic, and gained the respect of 30-year employees,” she said.

At North Side, Burk said, he participated in school theater productions, both as an actor and in behind-the-scenes roles, including prop master and technical director. His creations included puppets, swords and sets, he said.

“Theater kind of ran in my blood,” he said, adding that his mother has performed locally.

Had he gone to a high school without a machine shop, Burk said he likely would have leaned more toward performance-based activities, like show choir.

After graduation, Burk plans to attend IUPUI, which he said admitted him into its mechanical engineering technology program. There, he said, he plans to propose his own program in prop making.

Burk's interests don't surprise Thompson. He has seen his former student occasionally at places like the Maker Faire in Headwaters Park.

“Behind the scenes, I totally see that,” Thompson said.

Where Burk might end up is unknown. He is undecided between working in theater or in movies.

“I can't really lose either way,” he said.

He does know, however, that an acting career isn't for him.

“I like to work with my hands,” he said.

Springer is confident that Burk will be successful.

“He has a passion for learning,” Springer said. “Obviously, he's motivated to succeed at whatever he's trying. It will serve him well.”