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Program connects students to well-paying jobs


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Eden McCleary’s love for math and science finally had an outlet: An integrated curriculum that would walk her through the steps to someday land a career in engineering.

A year later, the sophomore at Columbus Signature Academy New Tech High School is excited to see where the second year in the new program will take her in a career.

“I don’t know if I’d be in engineering if it weren’t for this,” she said.

McCleary’s interest in engineering is one sign that EcO15, a homespun effort to persuade more students to choose educational pathways that lead to well-paying jobs, is making progress in a 10-county region.

Nowhere is that progress more apparent than in Bartholomew County, where the Advanced Manufacturing & Engineering Immersion program is showing that students are beginning to see the possibilities in engineering technologies.

The immersion program was introduced last school year at New Tech. A third of all girls who participated in the program last school year said in followup interviews that they never would have considered a career in engineering if it weren’t for the pilot program.

Based on its success, the program has been expanded to Bartholomew Consolidated Schools’ other high schools: Columbus East and Columbus North.

Solving a problem

The Community Education Coalition, educators and industry leaders joined forces eight years ago to narrow the gap between employers’ demand for highly skilled employees and the pool of trained applicants eligible to fill them.

What resulted has led to the development and funding of seamless educational pathways and other initiatives that serve a 10-county region, including Bartholomew.

Efforts are being directed toward:

Advanced manufacturing and the general fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Health care.

Hospitality and tourism.

Early education programming.

Receiving-end tutoring opportunities for high school students.

The Busy Bees Academy, which encourages parents to send their 4-year-olds to prekindergarten classes, and iGrad, which provides adult tutoring to high school students, are two initiatives stakeholders consider vital to improving education in Columbus.

However, advanced manufacturing and STEM receive significant attention locally, given their importance in Bartholomew County as the home of Cummins Inc. and other industrial

manufacturers.

The Community Education Coalition and its partners have their work cut out, though.

Kathy Oren, executive director of the Columbus Learning Center, said many people have the outdated impression that people can go straight into manufacturing without any schooling beyond middle and high school.

Mechanical engineering jobs today require more technical skills needing advanced degrees. The challenge is to convince young people, and the older generation that advises them, that mechanical engineering and other engineering technologies are highly skilled fields that lead to well-paying, lucrative careers, she said.

Stakeholders’ educational initiatives could help address another issue. Although the median income in Bartholomew County is $33,000, the distribution is disproportionate among the demographics, said John Burnett, chief executive officer of the Community Education Coalition. Out of about 40,000 employed countywide, about 15,000 are above the median and 25,000 are below the median.

“That’s a concern to all of us,” Burnett said.

Persuading more people to go into engineering technologies would help fill employers’ needs, Community Education Coalition officials said. That fact practically guarantees employers like Cummins, Sunright America and NTN Driveshaft would hire those students when they enter the workforce, they added.

New approach

The Advanced Manufacturing & Engineering Immersion program at New Tech High School is a new approach to alerting students to the career possibilities in engineering.

As part of the school corporation’s C4 Columbus Area Career Connection, the program combines geometry with an Introduction to Engineering and Design in a freshman-year class that all New Tech ninth-graders must take.

Mike Reed, principal of New Tech, said the combination gives students a way to apply their geometry knowledge to a real-world field so they can better understand its importance in a possible, eventual career.

About 90 of the 134 freshmen who took the class last school year chose to come back for the second year, which combines Algebra 2 with Principles of Engineering, Reed said.

After the second year of the program, students who continue on in high school can choose different pathways that lead to different careers within the engineering discipline and can accumulate college credits.

Josh Gray, a senior, said the program’s structured pathways and hands-on learning opportunities have provided him a glimpse into what his career may look like someday. He said he already knew that he wanted to go into mechanical engineering but didn’t know how he would get there.

He plans to attend Purdue University in West Lafayette next fall to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering. Having grown up on a farm, he wants to apply his degree to farming.

The Community Education Coalition and its partners are examining other career disciplines outside of engineering so they can develop pathways for those as well, Burnett said.

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