Leading by design

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Pre-engineering program continues to grow at MCHS

By Stephen Lega

From the time he was a child, Brooks Divine has enjoyed making things.


"I loved model cars, model airplanes,” the Marion County High School senior said. "I love working with my hands.”

This year, he's also making a difference for other students and for Project Lead the Way, a pre-engineering program at MCHS.

Divine completed PLTW during his junior year in high school. This year, he's serving a representative for the school and as a peer teacher. He’s an advocate for the program, and he’s helping students who are just starting it.

"In some cases, I can do what Coach [Greg] Conley can’t," Divine said.

Conley has been a PLTW instructor since the program started at MCHS.

Divine points out the program’s 3-D printer, which he said could assist local industries, and he mentioned how PLTW students have come up with designs for a library expansion and a training facility for local firefighters.

They also designed a transitional classroom where students with functional and mental disabilities can learn skills to enable them to become more independent after they get out of high school. The classroom includes a kitchen, dining area, bathroom, classroom, library and technology center.

“I wish the community knew more about us up here,” he said.

And Divine has a plan for that, too.


A new partner

Ginger Allen has been a PLTW instructor for years. As the program has grown, she's seen more and more students go on to study engineering or related fields in college.

She was also part of the team that helped MCHS apply for and be accepted to the National Academy Foundation, which is a national partner with PLTW.

“NAF has enhanced the PLTW program by not only incorporating it into other curriculums but by bringing in community members to join the advisory board and allow them to help us steer the program in ways that would make more productive citizens,” Allen wrote in an email.

The National Academy Foundation was created in 1982 by Sanford Weill, the chairman emeritus of Citigroup. The foundation encourages partnerships between education and business to provide opportunities for underserved students.

As part of the foundation, English teachers Rebecca and Troy Costisick and math teacher Jeff Robbins have joined Conley and Allen in PLTW. This is meant to encourage cross-disciplinary collaboration and to help students see the connections between engineering, communication and math skills.

But the foundation not only enhances the program’s academic component; it also creates “real world” opportunities for students in the program.

The foundation’s advisory board includes several business leaders within the community. They provide input into what they want to see from their future workforce and offer opportunities for students to see, and in some cases experience, firsthand what people do in their industries. This may include in-class activities or visits to local factories.

Like Allen, Conley sees the foundation as a way to improve PLTW.

“The stuff we're going to see happening will be as good if not better than what we see happening with Brooks [Divine],” Conley said.

And that's saying a lot.


Creating opportunities

Divine was selected to represent Kentucky and deliver a PowerPoint presentation at a PLTW conference earlier this year. In addition to students and teachers involved with the program, University of Kentucky President Lee Todd, the chief executive officer of PLTW, and managers from Toyota were in attendance.

Let’s just say, it went well.

"Through my speech, I have an internship at Lockheed-Martin," Divine said.

Lockheed Martin is a global security and aerospace company, according to the company's website. They make and design aircraft, missiles, information systems and space systems. In other words, Lockheed-Martin makes fighter planes and missiles, and it launches things into space.

The company also has a facility in Orlando, Fla., which is near Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, where Divine will be studying aviation next fall.

Like his instructors, Divine agreed that the National Academy Foundation will only improve PLTW.

Divine also speaks about the promising things he’s already seen from this year’s freshmen, students like Rae Mills.

“I see her going through this as far as I have,” Divine said.

Mills's brother, Dalton, has already gone through PLTW and is now studying engineering at the University of Kentucky. Her mother is a U of L Speed School graduate and professional engineer.

Mills said her mother has never pressured her to pursue a career in engineering, but she also said her mother has always spoken highly of her work.

Mills visited the PLTW class as an eighth-grader. She remembered trying to solve puzzle cubes the students made in the introduction to engineering class. This year, she got to make her own puzzle cube. (Divine tried, and failed, to solve her puzzle as she was speaking, by the way.)

“Seeing people like him not being able to solve it … I like it,” Mills said with a smile.

She added that PLTW assignments involve creative thinking.

“It really lets you take control of the answer to a problem,” Mills said.

Another freshman, Zach Nalley, said he became interested in the program in part because his step-brother was already in the classes. Nalley said he likes the hands-on nature of the work and that he gets to use computers in his assignments.

“It's a little bit complex,” he said. “It's pretty easy, but there's some challenging things.”

Mayte Gomez, another freshmen, had a similar view, adding that she is enjoying the program.

“They're not hard and they're not easy,” she said. “You just have to think about everything.”

Gomez added that Divine has helped her understand some things as well.

Divine sees the situation a little differently, however. He said sometimes students just need a little time to think about how to approach an assignment.

“Usually a day, 24 hours, will get their brains moving,” he said. “It's a good life lesson.”

Allen said more students have joined PLTW every year it has been offered. While the classes are still mostly male, more female students are signing up for PLTW, too. While she would love to see the classes evenly divided, she’s already seen the program as a way to encourage female students to consider and pursue careers in STEM fields. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.


Bigger exposure

As mentioned earlier, Divine has already completed PLTW. Last year, he finished the capstone class, also known as engineering design and development. In that class, students incorporate everything they learned in the previous PLTW class and try to come up with an invention or an innovation to improve on an existing invention.

"If you’re lucky, you get a patent at the end of the semester," Divine said.

Previous PLTW students have come up with ideas including a garage door openers that operate with a sensor (to open the door automatically when a vehicle gets close), a Skin-it type product for televisions, and a pencil with a built in sharpener.

For his project, Divine initially considered a capstone project related to pole-vaulting. (For what it’s worth, he is the reigning 2A state champion in that event.)

Eventually, he turned his attention to products that are more widely used. After going through multiple tweaks and design changes, he created a stand to hold an iPhone, iPod or iPad that fits in a standard car cup-holder.

Since he’s already completed the capstone project, he and another student, Satchel Tatum, are working on a new project this year.

"We’re trying to design a glider to be able to do down the hill, hit an incline and fly a short way,” Divine said.

Coincidentally, PLTW is housed in the Marion County Area Technology Center, which sits on a hill next to the high school.

While the glider project certainly fits in with Divine’s desire to work in aviation, Divine also hopes it will be a way to promote PLTW.

"It’s just something to let people know what we're doing here," he said.

It might also be a sign of what’s to come.



To learn more about Project Lead the Way, visit http://www.pltw.org/.


To learn more about the National Academy Foundation, visit http://naf.org/.