School Begins Introduction to Engineering Class

Beginning this fall, the school will be offering a new Introduction to Engineering Design class, taught by math teacher Teresa Dunlap. In this class, students learn the basics of engineering and become eligible to enroll in the advanced classes planned to be offered next year.

“The class is the foundation course for a larger program of engineering classes,” Dunlap said. “This is the prerequisite for all the other engineering classes that we are going to begin to offer in the future. The program we’re offering is offered through a bigger nationwide program called Project Lead the Way.”

Project Lead the Way is a program designed to bring more science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) classes to schools. This organization teaches students between kindergarten and 12th grade and offers courses such as Introduction to Computer Science, Computer Integrated Manufacturing and Aerospace Engineering.

The long term goal of Project Lead the Way is to prepare American middle school and high school students for success in the ever increasing high-tech economy.

This new engineering class focuses on the designing and planning aspects of engineering rather than the building process. The students are given a task for which they must design, draw and virtually create a 3-D model of their design in order to satisfy the given problem.

“The first year everybody takes the same class, which is Intro to Engineering Design,” Dunlap said. “The idea of it is that it’s based on the design process, so everybody learns the engineering design process as well as basic 3-D modeling skills…we’re going to be using AutoDesk Inventor to do that.”

The goals of this class are both to prepare the students for the advanced classes as well as teach them the basics of what being an engineer in the Silicon Valley would consist of.

“Later on in the year, if we can organize it, we’re going to do a virtual team design project where they have to communicate with somebody who’s not in the room with them,” Dunlap said. “So they kind of get used to thinking in terms of how would you do this if you were an engineer working in Silicon Valley and you had to communicate with somebody in India. There are certain types of challenges that come with designing something with a group that’s not right in front of you.”

Another goal of Project Lead the Way is to encourage more girls and underrepresented students to take more classes in STEM fields.

“There are definitely more boys than girls [in the class], but it’s probably not as disproportionate as you might have seen in a standard engineering class 20 years ago,” Dunlap said.

In the school’s two Intro to Engineering Design classes, about 70 percent of the students are male. Project Lead the Way hopes to continue to increase girls’ interest in engineering fields and create a better balance between male and female students in the class.

Dunlap hopes that over the course of the next few years, the number of students in the course will continue to grow as more and more people become interested in the field of engineering.

“Right now there are two [classes] and we’re hoping that [the number of classes] will continue to grow and the students from this year’s classes will go on and become our second-year students,” Dunlap said. “Then, we’ll hopefully get an influx of people taking the first-year class.”