Engineering available next year

Dec. 15, 2005, midnight | By Jordan Fein | 18 years, 2 months ago

MCPS is establishing a Pre-Engineering Program, which will be available to sophomores next year, intended to reduce the national shortage of engineers.

The program, proposed in part by Blair counselor James Distler, consists of four two-semester courses. Distler recognized that many honors students interested in engineering avoid taking technology education (tech-ed) courses because they hurt weighted GPAs. For this reason, the county will offer classes designated as certificate of merit, honors and non-honors. "We've got to offer good options to all our students," Distler said.

The program will be funded by the Perkins Act, which was authorized in 1984 to provide support for career and technical education programs, according to the Association for Career and Technical Education. Like the No Child Left Behind Act, the Perkins Act emphasizes testing and accountability. Consequently, Distler and the other creators of the program were forced to develop tests for attainment of curriculum objectives before returning to the classroom to make sure the courses were teaching this material.

Currently, only three of MCPS's 21 high schools offer engineering programs. Thomas Edison provides career training for students interested in becoming engineers and "Project Lead the Way," a college-level engineering program, is available at Col. Zadok Magruder and Poolesville. Distler believes that these options are insufficient to "flood students with opportunities" to study engineering and he hopes the new program will fill the void.

If students' home schools do not offer Pre-Engineering classes, they may take the classes at other schools, which Distler predicts could lead to overcrowding. To reduce the stress on schools with Pre-Engineering program courses, he and the program's other creators will make only "Creative Engineering," the first class in the sequence, available next year. The remaining three Pre-Engineering Program classes will be gradually phased in while some existing engineering courses, like Communications, a tech-ed class at Blair, are phased out.

According to the MCPS course syllabus, "Creative Engineering" is designed for sophomores with strong physics backgrounds who will take calculus in high school and are interested in pursuing engineering as a career. Students in the class will learn the steps of the engineering design process, explore the skills and abilities necessary to become an engineer and discover how engineering can contribute to society.

"Systems and Cycles," geared towards juniors, will emphasize the development and design of machines and other engineering projects. Students will utilize computer software like Computer Assisted Design and Drafting to diagram devices and use Fisher-Technik parts, Legos and circuits to construct them.

"Engineering Applications," the first senior-level course, will begin to steer students towards particular engineering fields. Students in the class will draw on knowledge from the previous two courses, as well as physics and math, to complete a rigorous project in a specified area of interest such as mechanical or biomedical engineering.

"Engineering Science" is the culmination of the Pre-Engineering Program. Participants will be evaluated on their design, modeling and construction skills and their ability to apply science and college-level math to engineering. The class will also teach students the ethical responsibilities of engineering and how to communicate as a team while researching and completing engineering tasks. Seniors may apply to take Engineering Science at the University of Maryland (UMD) instead of at Blair to receive college credit for the course.

UMD has joined MCPS in developing the Pre-Engineering Program to help eliminate a national shortage of engineering professionals. According to the Council on Competitiveness, the number of students earning engineering degrees dropped by 20 percent from 1986 to 1998 nationwide. Nariman Farvardin, Dean of the A. James Clark School of Engineering at UMD, emphasized cultivating interest for engineering in high school or earlier, as the county aims to do with the Pre-Engineering program, so students will be more likely to choose an engineering career.

Jordan Fein. Jordan Fein is a magnet senior (woot!) who is enamored of politics and journalism. He is very politically active and enjoys talking politics with whomever is willing. Politics, politics, politics. He is looking forward to his second year of writing on Silver Chips and especially … More »

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