Pre-engineering program to students

Preparing students for the future is the goal of the Hart Career Center's new Project Lead The Way (PLTW) program. The classes began this fall, with an engineer who formerly worked at Hubble Power Systems as teacher, and with a curriculum from the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics national initiative.
There are 12 students enrolled in two classes: Intro to Engineering and Digital Electronics. The introductory class is one of two base courses required by PLTW. The Digital Electronics class is the only elective offered at HCC at this time.
"We have signed a STEM agreement with PLTW, and are working through all the requirements," Mickie Shank, director of HCC said. "We started the process by visiting several programs in Oklahoma and St. Louis. We involved our people, the high school principal and counselor and representatives from our sending schools."
Hester Russell was hired to lead the program. She attended extensive training in South Carolina and at the Missouri School of Science and Technology to prepare herself as a PLTW teacher. While at the workshops, Russell worked through curriculum so she would have first-hand experience with the projects and requirements.
"I am excited about the program," Russell said. "It is a great way to prepare students for what they will actually do if they go into engineering. Also, what we teach is a good basis for all math and science classes, for those students not planning to be engineers."
The purpose of the STEM national initiative is to increase the number of students, male and female, in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. PLTW is a charitable, not-for-profit organization established in 1997 to address the shortage of engineers. The organization includes more than 4,500 programs in all 50 states.
In visiting two Missouri high schools where the program has been successful, Parkway and Kirkwood, Shank said she was impressed by the evaluation of the teachers and the enthusiasm of the students.
"Several teachers told us the program was the most vigorous and rewarding classes they had ever taught," she said. "And every student we talked to said the classes taught them that working on teams to solve problems, even if they had previously considered themselves to be independent workers, helped them come to the realization that working with a performing team was powerful in solving problems."
Shank said she hopes PLTW at HCC becomes nationally certified in the Pathway to Engineering program during the next school year.
Before that can happen, the class offerings will have to be increased to include another basic class, Principles of Engineering. Other electives, or specialization courses, under consideration to be added are Aerospace Engineering, Biotechnical Engineering, Civil Engineering and Architecture and Computer Integrated Manufacturing.
Along with requiring schools to offer at least four courses, national certification also requires participating schools to offer a capstone course, Engineering Design and Development. In this class, students identify a problem and then work in teams to develop an original solution, by applying the engineering design process.
The evaluators who come to inspect the program also will be looking at the students' engineering notebooks, which are technical documents that include the principles of engineering learned in the classes. The evaluators also will talk to students about what they are learning and doing, and certify that students in the program are enrolled in successively more difficult math classes.
PLTW is partners with companies such as 3M, Cargill, Intel, NASA and Sprint. Representatives from the 45 partner companies assist in updating the curriculum each year.
Students in the inaugural classes are enthusiastic about the implementation of PLTW. Freshman Kerrie Ahrens said she would recommend the program to other students. "This class is more challenging than my other classes. I like how we explore what we can do," she said. "We create things, using skills such as geometry, instead of just learning the material."
Both Shank and Russell hope the program will advance. They, along with HCC and MHS counselors, will attend the state PLTW conference in St. Louis Oct. 26.
"My goal is that the program will expand to offer classes every period of the school day," Shank said. "We want to keep students moving forward in this rigorous, hands-on curriculum.