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The Face of America’s Next Engineers

3 years ago

If average high schoolers were offered a track of courses focused solely on engineering, how many do you think would enroll? One in ten? One in twenty? Fewer? Try twenty five percent.

That’s how many are signing up for the Engineering Technology Academy (ETA), according to Ryan Baxter, elective teacher at West Catholic Preparatory High School.

The program, which launched in 2013 in collaboration with Drexel University, combines a set of skill building exercises in electronics, design, and manufacturing to create custom, high-quality projects.

“We were looking for ways to apply student learning that also supported their career development. And in the same breath, the manufacturing industry in the Greater Philadelphia area was looking to welcome that same type of student into their workforce,” Baxter says. “So we envisioned something like an apprenticeship that connects students to both the design and the manufacturing aspects of technology.”


Building Up Confidence

It isn’t easy to get students excited about mathematics — especially those who aren’t already at the “top” of their classes. Combined with the sometimes-daunting nature of coding, robotics, and complex machinery, stepping down students’ fears about STEM is an important before asking them to rise to engineering challenges.

“In both computer science and engineering classes, students are encouraged to adopt a mindset of ‘fail forward fast,’” says Brittany Walker, who teaches computer science at West Catholic Prep. “The courses in ETA show them that failing is part of a process; you reflect, learn and improve. And what we see is that students leave the program with a better handle on the foundations of the math — and greater confidence in actually applying it.”


From Classroom to Construction Site… or Corner Office

In addition to half of last year’s ETA graduates going on to pursue four-year degrees in STEM fields, a number were able to secure internships at manufacturing companies.

“Two students completed internships at EKL Machine, Inc. in Bensalem, where they worked in an inspection room and created 3D models of various parts. Another two students began to learn support for manufacturing operations at Acme Corrugated Box Company in Northeast Philly.”

“Another student was inspired by a visit from Target Building Construction, and she applied the very next day after their visit,” Baxter says. “What’s really cool is that she left high school with a year and a half of experience in construction management based on her own career identity formation within our program.”


Accolades from the Academy

With a quarter of all West Catholic students involved in the Engineering Technology,  there is no shortage of students enthused to explore how they can apply their manual and mathematical skills in future academic and professional pursuits.

“This program has brought me closer to engineering and has made me want to major in engineering for college — mechanical because I like working with the machines.” Cindy, Grade 10

“The Academy has greatly changed how I perceive the math and science that I learn at school by showing me that there are multiple ways to embed the subjects into opportunities of creation. In engineering, I believe that you are only limited to your own imagination.” D’Andre, Grade 12

“I was astonished with the work I had done. I have never really challenged myself in engineering until I came to West. The engineering program really had an impact on my life and how I think because it changed my mentality as an engineer as a whole.” Jennifer, Grade 11

West Catholic Prep is also home to a chapter of The National Society of Black Engineers. NSBE is a national organization for students ranging from grade school and high school (NSBE Jr.) to the professional level. The NSBE seeks to increase the number of culturally-responsible Black engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally, and positively impact their community. Open to all who are interested, NSBE establishes a family-like vibe for students seeking mentorship, and a rich network of members who can inspire them. Click here to learn more about West Catholic Prep’s chapter of NSBE.