Engineering success: Hartselle High’s engineering program builds successful students
Photos by Rachel Howard
Whether it’s designing thermostat covers for the high school, creating and testing biodiesel or testing the alloys in metals, students in the Hartselle High’s Engineering Academy can often be found participating in hands-on learning projects.
The program that started with 10 students in 2009, has now grown to include approximately 300 students every year and has expanded to five classes.
Kim Pittman helped start the program after working in the engineering field for nine years, and says it’s an excellent entry for students interested in pursuing careers in engineering. In addition to learning the basics, she says the program allows students to study and work with some of the top professionals in the industry. Students also have the opportunity to earn dual enrollment credits and become certified – all before graduating from high school.
“In those CAD classes, they also get industry certification as well that they can add to their resume. So every year we have students that get jobs – either summer internships or jobs throughout the year where they are able to use that CAD certification,” Pittman said.
Amber Roy is another instructor in the Engineering Academy, and said that it’s a great opportunity for students to test the waters before committing to expensive and timely classes in college.
“Just seeing them not waste their time is rewarding. A lot of times kids will change their degree or change their major multiple times because they just don’t know until they get there and experience it,” Roy said. “So at this level we are able to help tailor things to their interests. They may have wanted to be an electrical engineer, but when they have the opportunity to work hands-on and do the thinking that goes along with an electrical engineering background and discipline they will go oh this is not for me, this is not what I thought it was. So they are able to plan for their future.”
While many students in the program continue on to college to study various engineering disciplines, some enter directly into the workforce.
“We have plenty of students that go into more technical routes. They may do the FAME program through Calhoun and be manufacturing technicians or Lockheed Martin has a program called AMTAP, so those types of technical programs we see a lot of kids in those areas as well. We definitely give them what they need for college success in engineering, but we also do a lot of hands-on in the process. It works well for students that may just go straight into the workforce or like a two year college program as well,” Pittman said.
Despite its success in preparing students for life after high school, the Engineering Academy is constantly undergoing changes and improvements. In addition to performing interviews of graduating students to survey the program, the academy is served by an advisory board made up of engineering professionals.
“We would love to have more female participation on the program – that is something we have been trying to target for a while. We also want to establish a class at the junior high to maybe increase interest at the junior high level – a course that’s pre-engineering that would then feed into us. Those are two things that we are working on for our program because we are always looking at ways to make the program better,” Pittman said.
Being led by two successful female engineering professionals, the program serves as a great example for girls considering a career in the industry. For Roy, the draw of engineering comes from being able to work with her hands.
“A lot of women like to be hands-on and so it gave me an avenue to actually use those hands-on skills and get the pay that I wanted in the career field,” she said.
Pittman shares similar sentiments and says the engineering field offers reliable and sustainable income for students with a four-year degree.
“It’s the highest paid four-year degree. If you look at the top five degrees as far as pay, they are all engineering degrees. It’s that immediate payoff for what you do. If you have the skills that you need to be successful for engineering, which is the thought process and the math skills, the payout is immediate and it’s lucrative if you enjoy what you’re doing,” Pittman said.
Perhaps one of the most exciting aspects of the program is the opportunity to learn through doing. Students have ample opportunity to explore projects with 3D printing and also have the chance to work on a NASA project.
“They design a payload for a real NASA mission and that’s through a program called InSPIRESS through the University at Alabama in Huntsville. So that is a semester-long project that they work which helps them interact and present to NASA and UAH scientists and engineers,” Pittman added,
Beyond the hands-on learning opportunities students have the chance to partake in competitions and for the first time this year will visit Disney’s Imagineering Studio.
“We were accepted into the Imagineering Campus for the first time. So we are going to be able to go behind the scenes for Disney. They will do physics at Disney, they will do technology design at the parks. That is another application that we are going to have for our upperclassmen, and it is a brilliant opportunity for these students,” Pittman said.