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Nationally certified

Pre-engineering program opens doors for students

June 08, 2011 - Oxford High students wishing to pursue careers in engineering and technology will now be eligible for college credit, scholarships and preferential treatment in the college admissions process because the school's Project Lead The Way (PLTW) program received national certification last week.

"I was really excited," said teacher Dave Okasinski, who oversees the OHS pre-engineering program. "It was a lot of work. It was a two-year process."

PLTW, a nonprofit organization, offers a rigorous curriculum that allows students to apply what they're learning in math and science classes to real-world engineering and technology projects. PLTW is the nation's leading provider of science, technology, engineering and math programs.

Being nationally certified means OHS successfully demonstrated a commitment to PLTW's national standards.

Oxford High's been offering PLTW courses since 2009.

More than 350,000 students in nearly 4,000 schools in 50 states plus Washington D.C. are currently enrolled in PLTW courses.

Oxford began with an Introduction to Engineering Design course in 2009-10, which drew about 100 students, according to Okasinski. It continued this past school year with about 50 students taking the second level course, Principles of Engineering, and about 100 more taking the introductory class.

Each year, the high school plans to add a PLTW course. This fall it will be a Digital Electronics class.

After that, the school will add Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM), Biotechnical Engineering, Aerospace Engineering and a capstone course called Engineering Design and Development.

Once students complete the first three PLTW courses, they can either choose their fourth class based on which specialty they wish to pursue CIM, biotechnical engineering or aerospace engineering or enroll in the capstone class.

The capstone class, which is usually for seniors, involves taking an idea for a product all the way from design to development by working with an outside company.

PLTW classes can be translated into college credits at approximately 100 institutions of higher learning around the country including the following Michigan schools Eastern Michigan University, Lawrence Technological University, Kettering University, Lake Superior State, University of Detroit and Calvin College.

To receive college credit, students must take both an on-line exam and a written exam, and achieve a combined average of at least 70 percent. They also need at least a 'B' in the class or an instructor recommendation.

"They could graduate with four (college-credit) classes, if they take one every year (during high school)," Okasinski said. "It can save them a lot of money."

And thanks to PLTW's partnerships with private-sector companies like Boeing and government entities like the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, lots of scholarship opportunities are available for students who graduate from the program.

"(PLTW students are) more likely to go into an engineering program," Okasinski said. "They're more likely to graduate from college. They're more likely to get a four-year degree."

When it comes to college degrees that earn the best pay, Okasinski said nothing beats engineering these days. "The last couple years, seven out of the top 10 degrees turned out to be some form of engineering -- manufacturing engineering, industrial engineering and petroleum engineering," he said.

Okasinski cited an April 2011 news report from CNN indicating that engineering majors dominated the National Association of Colleges and Employers list of top-paying degrees for the Class of 2011. Four of the top five spots were engineering majors, each receiving an average starting-salary of more than $60,000.

While career success is certainly important, Okasinski is a fan of PLTW courses because of the way they allow students to utilize the knowledge they've acquired via textbooks and lectures.

"They take the knowledge they've learned in other classes, like calculus and physics, and they get to apply it," he said. "Once they start seeing how it's used in the real world, I think it gives them a little more interest in it and helps them succeed in their core classes as well."

For instance, when the students built ping-pong launchers, they got to calculate things like initial velocity, firing angles and the effect of gravity and wind resistance.

"They get to see how equations work," Okasinski said. "Generally, they seem pretty excited to be able to actually build things and do things."

As an educator, Okasinski believes the PLTW program has made him "part of an engineering community" as opposed to an "odd duck in the curriculum," which is how he felt all the years he taught computer-aided design (CAD).

"It's just nice to feel like I'm part of something a little bit bigger," he said.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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