Students in high school commonly carry a predefined courseload, consisting of core subject and perhaps a few well-known electives. In a lot of cases, these schedules are not defined by what the students want to do, but rather what the students think colleges want them to do. While this approach may seem appealing for students hoping for a straightforward path to a prestigious college, it is important to remember the advantages of some lesser-known opportunities. These opportunities have the potential to become invaluable to the students who are willing to venture out to take them. The Intro to Engineering class is an example of a class that students should take based on their own interests rather than how it will look on their transcript.
“Hopefully you take this class because it’s something that you’re interested in,” Intro to Engineering Design teacher Teresa Dunlap said. “That’s what electives are supposed to be—you’re not supposed to take them because you think, ‘Well, it helps my GPA.’ So, if people dismiss it because of that, then I don’t want to force people to be in here, but I do think it’s nice if they’re open-minded enough to see what this has to offer.”
While some students will dismiss the new engineering program at this school as either irrelevant to the focus of their planned major or as a class that lacks any academic advantage, the course provides much more than simply an introduction to engineering design. A major component of engineering is problem solving, an asset that will be valuable to people regardless of whether or not they pursue a career in engineering.
“The emphasis of the course is on problem-solving, brainstorming, collaboration and project-based kinds of things,” Dunlap said. “So not only do you learn basic, foundational engineering stuff like 3-D modeling, visualization skills and technical drawing, but also things that are good life skills.”
Although the focus of the class is on engineering design, even students who are not partial toward STEM subjects can benefit from the course because the design process that it teaches fosters thinking skills that are applicable to many other disciplines.
“We don’t always know what we’re going to use of the knowledge that we learn, so to me the philosophy is learn as much as you can, learn things that you want to learn and see where it takes you,” Dunlap said. “You don’t always know where your life is going to head and what opportunities you’re going to have, but the more you learn and the more connections you can make to the bigger picture of things and the richer your educational experience is going to be in general.”
Another benefit that students should consider taking advantage of is the fact that these specialized courses are being offered at the high school level. The Intro to Engineering Design course is part of a larger program called Project Lead the Way that will encompass more than this introductory course. In the next few years, the school hopes to experiment with additional courses that focus on computer integrated manufacturing, digital electronics, aerospace and civil or architectural engineering so students can get exposure to specific engineering fields before choosing a college major.
Many students may find it difficult to fit in an extra elective amongst a full course load. However, it is also important to consider classes that genuinely pique their interest when choosing classes. The new Intro to Engineering class and the projected upcoming additional Project Lead the Way courses offer a fresh and interesting alternative pathway for those interested.