From Writer to Subject

ACE Program Success Stories

Michael Alachnowicz works on a CNC machine during the bootcamp.
Michael Alachnowicz, marketing communications specialist, works on a CNC machine.

Nov. 29, 2023 – There’s one thing in journalism school you never get a lick of information about: machining.

And yet, here I am in a new position with IACMI – The Composites Institute, preparing to research and share stories about machines I never knew existed.

My career path so far has been a twisty road, but every step has led me here. As I reflect on my final semester in 2019 at Virginia Tech, I recall the cool, crisp days of autumn – full of color from falling leaves on the university’s picturesque Drillfield. I was full of anticipation of what was next.

I started as a television reporter and sharpened the tools in my communications belt. I quickly discovered that I had an affinity for workforce-related content. It’s an unexplainable feeling – I just knew that I loved telling those stories more than others. After my stint in television, I transitioned to the K-12 sector as a school district public information officer, where STEM topics piqued my storytelling interest.

Fast forward to October 2023 and I find myself writing yet another story about workforce – this time, with me as not only the writer, but also the subject.


I joined IACMI as a marketing communications specialist Oct. 4. I was hired specifically to lead communications for America’s Cutting Edge (ACE), and within days I was getting a firsthand experience of ACE by doing the program myself.

I was surrounded by machining experts as I went through “Train the Trainer” with folks from Alabama, Indiana and Tennessee. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention fellow IACMI newcomer Domingo de la Maza – but with a background in engineering, he still had a leg-up on me, with my closest experience to machining being childhood LEGO builds.

Participants pose for a picture during an ACE bootcamp.
Participants in the “Train the Trainer” bootcamp.

I was slightly intimidated. I was learning how to run a computer numerical control (CNC) machine that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, but I was also excited. One of the key reasons I notched a degree in journalism was because I loved learning about the people around me and sharing their passions with others. Plus, I love using my hands, so this hands-on training where I could make my very own air engine pushed away any feelings of doubt.


Prior to the one-week, in-person bootcamp, I did the online course. I paced myself by doing a couple hours every day for a few days before the in-person portion started. It was great to have this exposure first because it walked us through the basics of machining and set our expectations for the bootcamp.

All week we rotated between three key approaches: lecture, CAM software practice and hands-on machining. The lecture and Fusion 360 software lessons built upon what was taught during the online portion, and the machining time put it all together.

I think that’s where the real beauty in this program lies: you don’t need a background in machining to make it your own. Every day I learned more, and my confidence grew as I navigated personally uncharted waters.

Never once had I known about words like chatter, frequency response function or stability maps, but here I was digesting the terminology.

Never once had I dived into CAM software, but here I was creating programs step-by-step.

Never once had I known about machining equipment, but here I was cutting my own parts.

Our trainers Jose Nazario and Aaron Cornelius were quick to answer questions from any of the other trainers or myself. They were detailed in their approach to ACE, but they also encouraged us to push ourselves and apply what we had learned. By the end of the week, it felt empowering to run a program on my own after building it in Fusion.

Mike Brogan competes against Domingo de la Maza.
Mike Brogan (left) competes against Domingo de la Maza (right).

The exclamation point came on the last day with the air engine building competition. Since I was taking pictures, I withdrew and saved myself the embarrassment of getting cooked by much more formidable competitors.

Congratulations is due to Auburn High School’s Mike Brogan, who took home the gold. His calm and collected demeanor ultimately earned him top honors.

Everyone had a good time and left ready to lead ACE training in their respective schools. I left with a certificate, my very own air engine and a hearty respect for what it takes to manufacture anything.


This training was more than an introduction to machining. I met some great people during the bootcamp.

Beyond their considerable expertise, my fellow pupils are passionate about ACE. This quickly became obvious through the questions they’d ask or the stories they’d share about experiences from their home bases. Having a passionate trainer makes a difference, as it makes prospective students more interested and current students more engaged with the program.

When I think of passionate, the first person that comes to mind is Alvin McCormick. He’ll bring the ACE program to Southern Union State Community College in Alabama. He consistently engaged with the instructors, whether in the classroom or on the machines.

He believes students making their own air engines that they get to keep is enticing, particularly to high schoolers looking for a strong career path.

Alachnowicz holds up his ACE certificate following the bootcamp.
Alachnowicz (right) holds up his ACE certificate alongside trainer David Roberson (left) following the bootcamp.

“In a week you have something you made,” he said. “I think that’s a good way to get people excited about manufacturing.”

Chris Kusnierek with Career Academy South Bend also has a passion that lies with the next generation. He believes the reward for him is seeing students master machining skills.

“When you see a kid who’s been doing bookwork for a few months and then they start applying those things they’ve learned on the machines – when you see it’s clicked with them, that makes me feel good as a teacher.”

As for this writer, there’s something to be said about a communications major becoming ACE-certified. The natural curiosity I was taught to nurture at Virginia Tech bloomed into a successful new experience and gave me the tools I need to thoroughly communicate ACE with the other naturally curious, all while leading them to the fruit of ACE certification.

About the Author

Michael Alachnowicz joined IACMI – The Composites Institute in October. He brings experience between television news and K-12 communications to America’s Cutting Edge. Workforce and STEM-related content were consistent denominators in his storytelling interests, leading to his current role.

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