Evanston Township High School will be graduating more students who have studied engineering and more with sophisticated automotive technology training due to expanded course offerings in the District’s Applied Sciences and Technologies (AST) department, according to a presentation to the school board by Department Chair Shelley Gates on Dec. 14.

Project Lead the Way

Four pre-engineering courses are currently offered through the District’s certified Project Lead the Way (PLTW) program and next year, a fifth, Civil Engineering/Architecture will be added. The program “offers students an in-depth, hands-on, reality-based knowledge of engineering and engineering technology careers,” according to Ms. Gates’ presentation. They are elective courses, most of which can be taken by sophomores, juniors and seniors, in most cases for regular or honors credit. Incoming freshmen can register for the first course, Introduction to Engineering Design.

PLTW started in 1997 with 12 schools and has expanded to 3,500 schools across the country, said Ms. Gates.

“Project Lead the Way is designed to help students tap into their creativity, it helps them become better problem solvers and they are every day integrating math and science into real life problems,” Ms. Gates pointed out. “It also helps students become familiar with the software that engineers use. It’s a huge confidence builder for students to use the software they would use in college and beyond.”

Many colleges offer Project Lead the Way students the opportunity to apply for transcripted engineering college credit, others provide dual credit and still others encourage students to mention their experience on their applications.

Ms. Gates also cited a number of advantages gained by students who enroll in PLTW courses. Since 2004, PLTW has used an independent service to conduct follow-up student testing and measure the program’s impact. The study found that, among other things, PLTW alumni are five to 10 times more likely to pursue engineering classes than other first year college students, and they have higher GPAs in college and a greater percentage of them plan to pursue four-year degrees.

“We have a lot of students at ETHS who find they are better at math and science than they thought they were when they take a course that’s more hands on,” said Ms. Gates. It has a very positive impact on student interest in science and math.”

Board President Rachel Hayman asked about the demographics of the students who take the classes.

Ms. Gates responded that the students in the courses were fairly racially diverse, but that there were not enough girls.

“Project Lead the Way requires us to report this information,” she noted.

Vice President Jane Colleton asked how the program was being promoted and how all students could be made aware of its existence.

Ms. Gates said that a mailing had been sent home to parents, they work with counselors and had an open house on Dec. 8 where sixty parents attended.

One of the challenges is that the PLTW courses are electives, which means that kids need to fit them into their schedule.

Student board member Alex Block said he had visited a PLTW classroom with a friend. “It seemed like a lot of fun. I had no idea there was so much equipment and all these students were doing these cool projects.”

“I think every kid in the school should take one of these classes,” said Ms. Gates. “They are really fun. Virtually no one drops a Project Lead the Way class. Being able to think like an engineer is a good thing no matter what career you go into.”

She also said that the school has made a big investment in the program for equipment and software. “It’s a program that should be used as much as possible.”

Automotive Technology

“It’s a whole new ballgame,” said Michael Wyllie, ETHS automotive technology teacher. “These cars are incredibly … advanced. The training you have to have initially, plus to stay current is pretty intense being in the auto repair field these days.”

Ms. Gates also reported that the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the U.S. Department of Labor predicts that “jobs as automotive service professionals will be plentiful for persons who finish training programs in high school, vocational or technical school, or community college.”

The District is currently seeking to become certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence and the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation.

The AST department recently upgraded the equipment in their automotive technology area through a grant from the Owen L. Coon Foundation.

“We’ve expanded the shop considerably, we have a lot more floor space, new lighting. We had a lot of high end, top of the line equipment to complement what we will be teaching with the new program,” said Mr. Wyllie.

The revised curriculum, which Ms. Gates is hoping to be certified by next summer, will consist of two of eight possible program areas, electrical/electronic systems and suspension/steering.

“We also have to have an articulation agreement with post-secondary schools who offer courses with ASE certification,” said Ms. Gates. The three schools which have been identified are Triton College, Truman College and Gateway Technical College in Kenosha, Wis.

“I think we need to do some sort of major grand opening to celebrate our new auto lab,” said board member Gretchen Livingston. She said she was surprised that many people in the community, even those “in the (automobile) business” did not seem to know about the advances in programming at the high school.

Board member Mary Wilkerson echoed other Board members and Ms. Gates, suggesting that the school do a better job “advertising the results of some of our programs that members of the community may not know about.”