The Herald Bulletin

February 17, 2014

Learning the practical applications of engineering

Classes designed by Project Lead The Way

By Stuart Hirsch
The Herald Bulletin

---- — PENDLETON — It’s just after lunch and Martin Klipsch’s civil engineering and architecture students are settling into their computer work stations.

Displayed on a big screen at the front of the classroom is the next assignment, which is to redesign a vacant industrial building in Noblesville for use as a public library.

A lot of detail and thought goes into such work, and Klipsch reminds his students about some of the specifications they must keep in mind: public restrooms, offices, a kitchen area and a work room for the staff among them.

The students will have about two weeks to complete the assignment using Autodesk Revit, a software program used by real world architects and structural engineers. The program allows students to design a building and all its components and display their work in a 3D format.

The goal of this and similar classes at Pendleton Heights is to introduce students to the skills they’ll need to earn a college engineering degree or be armed with the knowledge they’ll need after high school to find good jobs in today’s technology driven workplace, Kliipsch said.

The curriculum they use has been designed by Project Lead The Way (PLTW), an organization that had its genesis in the mid-1980s when an upstate New York high school teacher began offering pre-engineering and digital electronics classes to encourage students to study engineering.

The goal of the organization, which in 2011 moved its headquarters to Indianapolis, is to prepare “students to be the next generation of problem solvers, critical thinkers, and innovators for the global economy,’’ according to the group’s website.

Officially created in 1997, PLTW has grown to become a leader in providing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs for students in grades K - 12. Courses are offered in more than 5,000 schools in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. More than 300 Indiana schools, the largest number in the country, participate in these programs.

In Madison County, PLTW-designed classes are offered at Pendleton Heights, Anderson High School and Highland Middle School, according to the organization.

Klipsch took drafting and architecture classes as a student at Shenandoah High School, but technical education has changed dramatically since then.

“When I went to school, if I had known about engineering the way these guys do, I’d probably be doing something totally different right now,” he said. “But I didn’t know in the late 1980s what engineering was really about.”

About 150 students are enrolled in PLTW classes at Pendleton Heights, Kliipsch said. And as part of their course work, the students have opportunities to interview working engineers to learn what the profession is really like.

While a lot of student class work involves computers, seeing images displayed on a screen actually come to life is a key part of the curriculum as well.

“With this generation it’s all right here,” Klipsch said, pointing to a smartphone. “It’s good to pull them away from that and get them working with their hands so they can apply some of the things we’re teaching them come to life.”

Although 16-year-old Lucas Collett Jr. said he’s interested in public speaking, he nevertheless is pursuing a technical honor high school diploma and said he was drawn to Klipsch’s class because “architecture is really cool and I’m interested in design.”

Kelsee Wendling, one of only a small number of girls involved in the engineering program, said her interest was sparked by her father, a mechanical engineer who works for General Motors Corp. However, the 17-year-old junior said she plans to attend Purdue University, become a software engineer and eventually go to work for Apple.

Nearby, 18-year-old Levi McIntire showed off a two-bedroom Habitat for Humanity house he designed.

“I really like designing stuff,” said the senior, who also plans to attend Purdue. But design was just one component of the project. He also had to think about the materials that would be used to build the structure so it would be affordable.

Next door in Branden Jessie’s principles of engineering class, students have an opportunity to design products on their computers and experience the thrill of seeing a prototype emerge on a 3D printer.

In addition, his students break into small teams with the purpose of designing a machine that will sort marbles of different sizes and weights into small bins using plastic components Jessie describes as “Legos on steroids.”

The goal, he said, is to build teamwork and develop problem solving skills and design a machine that works.

Jessie also teaches a construction class down the hall where three wood-framed structures are going up as part of a yearlong project. Students do all the work, he said, from laying a concrete foundation and setting cinderblock footers, to framing, installing electrical outlets and more.

“Learning these skills is good for the kids that are not college bound and they like being out here,” he said. But students also spend time in classes learning the importance of planning and design. “I think we’re doing some good things for kids in my community.”

Like Stu Hirsch on Facebook and follow him @stuhirsch on Twitter, or call 640-4861.