Colleges and high schools pair up for engineering program


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West High students flew virtual planes during class Monday afternoon — but not for fun and games.

The students were participating in a program through Project Lead the Way to learn about engineering and exploring the sciences for college and high-school credit.

Project Lead the Way is a state-funded program in which high schools partner with the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and Kirkwood Community College to provide advanced engineering courses to spark students’ interest in science, math, and technology.

“It’s developing and preparing [students] for careers in the 21st century,” said Dominic Audia, a West High science teacher.

In the 2010-11 academic year, 400 Iowa students received academic credit through the program. To earn credit, students must maintain a B average in the class and score at least a 70 percent on the final exam.

West High first became involved with the project in 2007.

Audia said he’s seen students improve on such skills as math, science, and solving problems since the program began.

As the program expands, additional classes have been added. Currently, five classes are available for students, the latest an aerospace engineering class, which began this year. Students who take aerospace engineering can earn elective credits through the UI.

When the program was launched, seven Iowa high schools participated. Now, more than 100 schools are involved, said David Rethwisch, a UI professor of chemical and biochemical engineering. Nationwide, more than 400,000 students participate in the program.

“The number of schools affected is a lot more than that,” he said.

Students who do not attend a high school that offers the Project Lead the Way program can attend the Jones Regional Center for Education through Kirkwood.

Though the for-credit opportunity is a perk, students say they get involved with the program for a variety of reasons.

“Ideally, getting college credit in this course would be beneficial to my educational experience as well as my future goals,” said West High senior Drew Mullinox.

The program has helped attract some to the engineering field.

One senior, Megan Donze, said the experience has helped push her toward studying engineering, which she enjoys.

“This class keeps the school day entertaining; it helps the day go by,” she said.

Rethwisch said the purpose of Lead the Way is “getting students exposed to what they can do with science technology and math.”

“How they can make a difference,” he said.

The experiences in the classroom may help raise the number of engineering students at the UI, West High industrial-tech teacher Brian Martz said.

“We are hearing one possible reason behind the growing engineering field at the University of Iowa is from Project Lead The Way,” he said. “We are helping kids, which is really exciting.”

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