Learning Engineering
Principles Before College


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What elective classes did you take in high school?  Did any help prepare you for a career in engineering?

High school students interested in engineering in the state of Florida can now choose three- and four-year elective programs in subjects such as applied robotics, aerospace technologies, or computer integrated manufacturing. In some cases, students can earn transferable college credit at the end of the program. Duane Hume, supervisor for IT/Engineering & Technology Education Programs at Florida’s Department of Education discusses how the state is integrating engineering programs of study into high school Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) curricula and more about the many options available to students in the state.

A Cluster of Programs

Although Florida has a wide offering of STEM programs, the state created a cluster of programs within the STEM program umbrella for “engineering and technology education” (E&TE). All programs inside this cluster lead to or support a career in engineering. The programs specify a curriculum framework, identifying the knowledge, skills, and competencies that students are exposed to and need to perform by the end of the program. Vendors or producers of instructional materials design textbooks, activities, and equipment to support the frameworks, and each district decides whether to purchase the program.

Students can earn college credits in subjects such as applied robotics, aerospace technologies, and computer integrated manufacturing in the state of Florida.

“The program in aerospace technologies, for example, has three year-long courses, with an Advanced Technology Applications program to serve as a follow-on capstone program. The first two courses are designed for everyone and are moderately complex. The third year course is a rigorous program comparable to an Advanced Placement (AP) course,” says Hume. “Florida does not typically include AP courses in its Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs because the state requires alignment between the programs offered and industry expectations. To be responsive to technology changes and provide up-to-date programs of study for our students, Florida needs to change or update programs to reflect industry changes, which is not possible with AP courses.”

Hume explains that the E&TE programs (as with all CTE programs in Florida) are reviewed every three years, so competencies and the body of knowledge stay in alignment with evolving technologies. “In cases of an industry driven by very rapidly changing technology, a new four-year program becomes out of date before it is fully implemented, so it’s a continuing struggle to provide programs to our students. All CTE programs are volatile in this regard,” he says.

There’s been a tremendous paradigm shift over the last six or seven years, informs Hume, and engineering programs are very vibrant right now. Students begin preparing in middle school for entry into E&TE programs in the 9th grade and remain throughout their high school experience. “Everything is project based, with hands-on instruction, so it’s easy to keep the students engaged,” he says.

Preparing for the Regional Industry

The “Pathways to Engineering” program is a preliminary engineering core program offered statewide, and different flavors are offered depending on the region. In Tampa, where their industry supports advanced manufacturing, schools tend to implement computer integrated manufacturing programs. In Orange County and the Miami area, civil engineering  and architecture is common. Aerospace is prevalent in Brevard County, Jacksonville, and the Panhandle region because of the high influence of aviation and aerospace industries there. Biotechnology is a favorite in Central and North Florida. The program is customized to prepare students for industries important to each region.

The state requires all CTE programs be associated with a student organization to permit teachers to incorporate the competitive events into the curriculum, so students are engaged while they’re in the classroom and experience practical application of their newly acquired knowledge and skills.  Organizations such as the Florida Technology Student Association, Future Business Leaders of America, and Skills USA encourage and provide venues for students to compete at the state and national levels.

During the 2010-2011 school year more than 102,000 students enrolled in E&TE programs, and Hume says the trend for overall program enrollment is growing. The state offers many more CTE programs now compared to prior years, and more engineering programs are being implemented in more districts, due in part to the Race to the Top initiative. He has noticed an upsurge of students going into IT programs and a small decrease in engineering program enrollment, so there is a lot of competition depending on what programs a district offers. “The DOE doesn’t tell the districts which electives to teach, they decide for themselves what they need to teach based on local interests,” he says.

Florida’s primary source of funding for these programs is from the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act, administered by the Office of Vocational and Adult Education. Hume says the Florida legislature matches the amount of funding from the Perkins Act, and the Department of Education distributes the funds to the districts according to need and student load. The funds pay for virtually all aspects of the programs, such as computers and instructional materials. These funds also help support the student organizations.

Debbie Sniderman is CEO of VI Ventures LLC, a technical consulting company.

There’s been a tremendous paradigm shift over the last six or seven years, and engineering programs are very vibrant right now.

Duane Hume, Florida Department of Education

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September 2012

by Debbie Sniderman, ASME.org