January 24, 2014

Catholic Schools Week Supplement

Grant enables school to implement engineering, technology program

Sophomore Skip Maas of Shawe Memorial Jr./Sr. High School in Madison explains a project he did with a circuit board during a STEM roundtable program at Shawe on Oct. 9, 2013. (Photo by Ken Ritchie, provided by The Madison Courier )

Sophomore Skip Maas of Shawe Memorial Jr./Sr. High School in Madison explains a project he did with a circuit board during a STEM roundtable program at Shawe on Oct. 9, 2013. (Photo by Ken Ritchie, provided by The Madison Courier )

By Natalie Hoefer

When Fr. Michael Shawe Memorial Jr./Sr. High School senior Taylor Grote recalls performing a science experiment at a roundtable discussion with local industry leaders last October, she admits it was “a little nerve-wracking.”

But in the end, she says, “It was helpful to explain what we’ve been doing in the classes.”

“The classes” are a series of high school-level engineering and technology classes created by Project Lead the Way (PLTW), a nationwide, Indianapolis-based nonprofit organization promoting the education of students in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math—STEM as the grouping is referred to by professionals in those fields.

Shawe Memorial in Madison was able to implement the program with the roughly $110,000 they received through the distribution of a Lilly Foundation “Eco15” grant in 2008. Jefferson County, where Madison is located, was one of 10 counties named a recipient of the grant. Franklin County was included among the grant recipients, enabling Oldenburg Academy of the Immaculate Conception to also implement the PLTW program.

Kathy Huffman, coordinator of the Jefferson County grant, says one of the goals of the grant is to stem the brain drain of college graduates from the region.

“We wanted to focus on a pathway of classes that addressed how we get students into post-secondary education in the types of degrees our employers need, and make sure they come back to this area,” she explains.

The answer for Shawe Memorial was to implement the Project Lead the Way program, using the grant money to purchase equipment and provide training for the PLTW teacher.

Three PLTW courses are now being offered at the school—Introduction to Engineering Design, which is also open to Shawe Memorial eighth-graders, Digital Electronics and Principals of Engineering. A fourth class, Engineering Design and Development, will be added next year.

The upper level engineering courses provide the students with dual credit at any Ivy Tech Community College and most colleges in Indiana and Kentucky, including Purdue University later this spring.

Lou Ann Center teaches all of the PLTW classes.

“I was in my 25th year of teaching,” she recalls of being approached about teaching the courses. “I was getting burned out. I went to the training at Purdue University in Kokomo, and I fell in love. I love teaching this.

“The curriculum covers not just science, technology, engineering and math, but also logic for problem solving situations,” she says. “If you need to get from A to B, how do you get there? We’ve lost that over the years—if I don’t have step-by-step directions, how do I logically think things through?”

While there were no new math and science courses added to the curriculum at Shawe Memorial, junior Whit Grote found that the new engineering and technology classes “crossed curriculum with other classes. We’d be in engineering, then a couple of months later learn the same thing in physics and pre-calculus.”

The program goes beyond the educational elements of the subjects, Center explains.

“The students are doing career research. They have to contact people currently working in [the student’s] field of interest, interview to find out what did you have to do, what kind of schooling do you need. Then they research colleges to see what they require, find out average salaries, [and] what can I do with this degree. Career and college readiness is an important component in PLTW.”

To enhance that readiness, and to keep the students in touch with local businesses so they are compelled to work in the Jefferson County area after graduating from college, Huffman keeps the lines of communications open between the school and local businesses through various events.

“Community business leaders come into classrooms to speak,” she says. “We host a STEM roundtable. We have ‘Dream It Do It,’ a career awareness program. We have National Manufacturing Day. We have the kids tour corporations,” she notes.

“The trip to the manufacturing company was cool,” says sophomore Skip Maas. “We got to see all the machines using the same principles we just learned about.”

The local businesses do much to support the program financially as well, says Phillip Kahn, school president.

“Shawe has partnered with two local companies, Grote Industries and Vehicle Service Group, who have backed us with financial support to keep these programs going,” he says. “We are very thankful for their support, and will be talking to other local companies to join in.”

Kahn says the plan is to connect each company with Shawe Memorial graduates who are interested in STEM related fields, with the hope of students landing internships or permanent jobs down the road.

Taylor had no interest in engineering until she took the introductory course to fill an open spot in her schedule.

She now wants to pursue a career in engineering.

“I’m good at math and enjoy being able to apply math to other things besides textbook problems,” she says. “The classes gave a lot of hands-on learning, how to build circuit boards, computer programming, designing things on a computer. That’s what I really enjoy.”

Taylor will begin classes at Purdue University in the fall, with plans to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering and technology.

Junior Alex Turner says he knew before he took the courses that he was interested in engineering, “but I wasn’t sure of what type of engineering.

“I was able to narrow it down after the first year. I like mechanical engineering. These classes really helped me to realize what exactly an engineer does.”

After taking all three courses, Whit says he is “leaning toward computer science.

“But the things we’re learning in these classes don’t only apply to engineering and technology, but many other majors,” he says. “These classes have helped. They will play a big part in my future.”

Kahn says he is pleased with the results of the Project Lead the Way program.

“We’ve had more kids become interested in engineering and technology because of this [program]. It has really opened up those avenues as a possible career path for our students.” †

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