October 4, 2008

New Program Aims to Get Oregon Students Interested in Engineering

By Sam Bennett

A year ago, Cal Jackson was content with teaching geometry and advanced algebra to Lincoln High School students.

But when he saw an opportunity to teach engineering at the Harriet Tubman Leadership Academy for Young Women in Portland, Jackson couldn't pass it up.

"I thought it would be extremely interesting to get to teach engineering to females," said Jackson. "This is a great gateway for students to see what's out there."

Beginning this school year at the academy, Jackson hopes to create a "spark of interest" in his students, using new curricula he learned this summer at the Oregon Institute of Technology campus in Klamath Falls.

Jackson was one of 63 teachers from around the Northwest who attended the Summer Training Institute for engineering education as part of Project Lead the Way. Eighteen of the educators were middle school teachers; 15 were from Oregon. Forty-five of the attendees were high school teachers; 21 were from Oregon.

Middle school teachers learned to teach Project Lead the Way's Gateway to Technology courses, which is an activity-oriented middle school curriculum designed to help sixth-, seventh- and eighth- graders explore math, science and technology. High school teachers were trained to teach the Pathway to Engineering curriculum, which is structured in three tiers: foundation courses, specialization courses and a capstone course. Harriet Tubman Leadership Academy for Young Women is a Portland public school that currently enrolls students in sixth through ninth grades, and will eventually expand to sixth through 12th grades.

For his part, Jackson will teach Introduction to Engineering, Digital Electronics/Robotics, Architectural and Civil Engineering and a capstone course involving the design of a community project.

Tim Brower of OIT, who facilitates the Project Lead the Way teaching seminars, said attendance among Oregon teachers in the course doubled this year, compared to 2007. Project Lead the Way is a nonprofit educational program that is taught in 2,000 schools to 3,000 teachers from 49 states. Teachers in each state learn the Lead the Way curricula at institutions such as Duke and Purdue University. OIT is the designated Oregon university where the curricula are taught each summer.

Brower said getting students interested in engineering is essential because U.S. companies are exporting science and engineering jobs overseas to meet their demands. At a recent engineering conference, he said employers were worried about recruiting young people to come up through the ranks of engineering firms.

"The (engineering) industry is complaining because of the talent pool," he said. "They're worrying that the pool is very much shrinking."

The Project Lead the Way curricula are designed to help middle and high school teachers bring real-life applications of science and engineering into the classroom, according to Brower. Students are introduced to engineering and learn the science behind building working robots, creating manufacturing equipment and designing electronic circuitry.

At the seminar at OIT, teachers learned how to teach their students the direct correlation between math and science and the real-world industries of science and engineering. They also learned how to keep middle and high school students interested in these fields. Jackson said his courses are electives, but he hopes that the students are intrigued enough to come back each year, and continue their engineering education at the university level.

Originally published by Sam Bennett.

(c) 2008 Daily Journal of Commerce (Portland, OR). Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.