Heraeus materials have been part of some of the most significant events in aerospace advancement.

The German manufacturing company developed glass sensors 50 years ago that were used on the Apollo 11 mission to gauge the distance of the moon from a laser sensor on Earth. Recently, materials from the company, which has a plant in Buford, were part of the satellite Gravity Probe B that helped proved Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity.

On Thursday, though, the company’s sights were set on the surrounding communities when it hosted groups of Gwinnett County Public Schools principals and members of its central office for a presentation and tour of its Buford quartz glass plant.

Roughly 60 GCPS school leaders, mostly high school and middle school principals, as well as a few district administrators, heard from Heraeus employees about their career paths that led them to the company, and how GCPS can better prepare students for careers in manufacturing or engineering.

“Long term, we need to make sure we keep the skills that keep manufacturing here,” Heraeus’ Buford Plant Manager Tim Jenkins said. “We need to, in my mind from a corporate perspective, give back to the community. Even if we personally don’t gain from this, if the community gains, we gain.”

College isn’t for everyone, but if Heraeus can find job candidates with the problem-solving capacity and basis in mathematics necessary to be successful in the industry, the company can teach them the business aspect of the job.

The Principals Field Trip exposed local school leaders to career possibilities and opened the door for partnerships in the tech and health care industries, as well. Heraeus was the first of four stops on GCPS’ Principal Field Trip on Thursday, which also included Gwinnett-based factories and headquarters for Okabashi, IBM and Kaiser Permanente.

“We’re constantly looking for that workforce readiness, but also the ability to move into a college or a career with the skills that they need,” GCPS Associate Superintendent Steve Flynt said. “So partnering with the industry experts gives us the opportunity to learn what they need as far as skills, and what we can prepare our students to do as we go into post-secondary.”

The guests from GCPS first viewed a presentation from several employees at the Buford plant, who outlined what they look for in candidates for entry-level jobs with the company. It doesn’t always have to pertain to technical skills, but sometimes temperament.

Principals then toured a few parts of the facility and observed some of the pristine glass tubes being melted and molded. The fused quartz rods can weigh hundreds of pounds and applied as components in welding or millimeters thick and used for the conductive cores in fiber-optic cables.

Meadowcreek High School principal Tommy Welch said he wasn’t only interested in the kinds of jobs high school graduates could enter into with an associate degree, but some of the entry-level jobs that require bachelor’s degrees, doctorate degrees or masters in business administration. He is looking to better inform himself to keep Meadowcreek’s four academies on the cutting edge.

“I’m looking around, who has an MBA? Who has a Ph.D?” Welch said.

Educating educators is another byproduct of Thursday’s principal field trip. It’s not only important to keep students informed about the majors they can study in college, but also what their career path could look like once they have degrees. The attendance of middle school principals, Flynt said, is important for vertical integration that starts with students exploring their interests as middle schoolers.

“A lot of these careers, we don’t know about,” Flynt said. “Getting out and learning what’s in our own back yard, helps us relate that to the real world for students.”

Jenkins has been with Heraeus for 18 years, and he’s spent the past 13 years as the Buford plant manager. He is a mechanical engineer with an MBA, and he hopes some exposure to careers in engineering helps guide 17- and 18-year-old students during a time in which it could be difficult to decide on an intended career path.

Heraeus’ meeting with GCPS principals on Thursday is like a “first dance.” Heraeus is open to the idea that the relationship could develop into the creation of technical programs that help public school students in Gwinnett County earn associates degrees from technical colleges, and some principals that were guests on Thursday’s tour had questions for Heraeus managers about what a technical program could look like. By creating an avenue for students to earn associate degrees sooner, the risk of them falling off track after high school graduation lessens.

Heraeus has already partnered with Lanier Technical College for an electrical maintenance apprenticeship program that provides a hands-on experience performing electrical mechanical duties and classroom training at Lanier Technical College.

At the end of the program, students have an associate degree and are registered apprentices with a federal certificate.