LIFT vocational training center in Mattoon opens its courses | Local

MATTOON — About 100 students from 11 area high schools have begun attending classes at the Mattoon School District’s new vocational training center less than a year and a half after development began on that site.

Since the school board voted in April 2021 to purchase the former Consolidated Communications office building at 121 S. 17th St., contractors have renovated this seven-level facility from bottom to top and are putting the finishing touches on it. Meanwhile, program facilitators have created courses in communication, childcare, HVAC/green energy, manufacturing/architecture/construction, information technology, leadership, and culinary arts/hospitality for this new LIFT center (Leaders Innovating for Tomorrow).

“It was the collective effort of a very large group of people that got us to this point,” LIFT principal McLain Schaefer said on Friday as he welcomed students to their first day of classes at the center. LIFT had been holding introductory sessions for its students at the Elevate CCIC Entrepreneur Development Center at Cross County Mall since the start of the new school year in Mattoon on August 17.

A manufacturing robot, foreground, is ready for training uses at the Mattoon School District’s Leaders Innovating for Tomorrow (LIFT) center Friday morning as school principal McLain Schaefer, far left, greets students for the first day of classes there.


Schaefer greeted students at a gathering on the third floor in the HVAC/Green Energy Classroom, one of LIFT’s many spaces with large windows offering aerial views of downtown Mattoon. This particular open-concept classroom and lab has garage-style doors that open to an atrium that spans four stories. As Schaefer spoke, a manufacturing robot sat nearby for use by the students.

Ean Gardner, a junior at Charleston High School, said he was drawn to the opportunity to be a student in the center’s robotics program to enroll in LIFT. He is one of half a dozen students whose tuition outside the Mattoon District at LIFT was covered by scholarships from Cabot Corp’s manufacturing plant. in Tuscola, which also sent representatives to welcome the students.

“It’s great to know they trust me,” Gardner said of Cabot’s help with his robotics training.

First group of students (copy)

The first group of students to take courses in the The Mattoon School District’s Leaders Innovating for Tomorrow (LIFT) center poses for a photo Friday morning on the main staircase. These students are participating in the 8 a.m. session at the center, which has drawn students from 11 area school districts.


Chris Boyd, a senior from Tuscola High School, said he enrolled in LIFT’s construction program because he had always had an interest in the field and worked with his hands. Boyd said he was impressed with the training resources available in the fabrication/architecture/construction (MAC) lab on the fourth floor, including a CNC machine that processes a piece of material to meet specifications by following coded programmed instructions.

MAC program host Chris Brown, who previously taught drawing and other professional courses at Mattoon High School, said their lab also offers a waterjet cutter, laser engraver and 3D printer, among other equipment. He said it was exciting to see students from across the region come together to use such cutting-edge technology in a newly renovated space.

LIFT’s inaugural group of information technology students includes Lauren Woods, junior from Tuscola, and Brandon Creel and Renee Weber, seniors from Mattoon High School. Woods said it was fun socializing with students from so many different cities while taking his computer class.

Training material (copy)

Chris Brown, facilitator of the fabrication, architecture and construction program, is pictured on Friday discussing a laser engraver and other training equipment that will be used by his students at the Mattoon School District’s new Leaders Innovating for Tomorrow (LIFT) center.


Weber said he liked the look of the newly renovated building and was excited to work there with computer and robotic technology. Creel said he appreciates that LIFT provides a more college-like learning environment than high school and the commitment demonstrated by the instructors there.

“They seem very passionate about what they do,” Creel said.

Contact Rob Stroud at (217) 238-6861. Follow him on Twitter: @TheRobStroud

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