New program to prepare future engineers

A new program slated for next fall will funnel high school students through special college preparatory math and science course and into university engineering programs.

Thomas More High School, a Milwaukee Catholic school, and Marquette University's College of Engineering have joined to structure this new high school curriculum for potential engineering majors.

"What we're hoping to do is to introduce students to engineering and the different types of engineering," said Ana Kleppin, the Thomas More High School Director of Admissions and Recruitment. "We want students to take the courses that will not only help them decide what kind of engineer they want to become but will also develop problem solving skills and skills in science. I think students, whether they go into engineering or not, will benefit from the courses."

Stanley Jaskolski, dean of the College of Engineering, has been working closely with Steven Roy, president of Thomas More High School for about five months on the partnership.

Students will have to pass certain criteria to get into this four-year program. The school will approach incoming freshmen who receive high scores on the placement exam in math and science, Kleppin said.

Future Marquette applicants from Thomas More will be seriously considered for scholarships and will receive standing credit in the College of Engineering but will still have to apply through the admissions process.

This partnership is part of Project Lead The Way, a nonprofit organization founded by the Charitable Leadership Foundation in Albany, New York. It is a response to the national shortage of engineers and encourages female and minority participation in university engineering programs.

Rich Dorn, a counselor at Thomas More High School, attended a seminar at Purdue University about PLTW.

"Colleges were losing engineers and percentage-wise there weren't as many students going into engineering programs," Dorn said. "Ultimately, the result was that our country was losing some very needed engineers in a variety of fields and consequently we had to recruit foreign talent."

Jaskolski said this many negatively impact society.

"Science engineering and technology is what has made available your computer, your software, your cell phone,' Jaskolski said. "Where are these new generations of projects that improve your life going to come from? This country is producing fewer and fewer engineers every year, and we need to turn that around."

According to Patrick Leaveck, director of Midwestern States for PLTW, there are about 700 school districts in 41 states involved in middle school and high school programs.

The program consists of four college-credit courses with regular classes such as English and history. The courses are Principles of Engineering, Introduction to Engineering Design, Digital Electronics, and a choice of Computer Integrated Manufacturing, Civil Engineering and Architecture, Bioengineering or Aerospace Technology. The last two are still in development. The Rochester Institute of Technology approved courses will accompany an independent study course where seniors will work on a project with outside companies.

"The program courses are modified after freshmen level engineering courses," Leaveck said. "The kids are doing very well. They're making it through the first year of college at a much higher rate."

To accommodate this project, Thomas More High School will remodel one of its computer labs into an engineering lab over the summer and will train some faculty members to teach the math and science courses.

According to Jaskolski, cost of these adaptations will range from nothing to $80,000 depending on how well equipped the labs already are. The Kern Foundation, according to Jaskolski, said it will provide whatever money is necessary to schools that want to get involved with this partnership, including Thomas More High School.

Jaskolski said he would like to expand the College of Engineering partnership to 24 high schools.