July 30, 2014

Would-be engineers get a jump-start at high school academy

Buhach Colony High School’s Engineering Academy enters fourth year with 168 students

They are gaining knowledge that may be applied in careers that haven’t been invented yet. The natural-born tinkerers and potential inventors who want to explore the bounds of science and engineering have found a home at Buhach Colony High School’s Engineering Academy.

Rita Schroeder, the Atwater school’s associate principal for testing and accountability who oversees the Engineering Academy, said 168 ninth through 12th grade students will be enrolled in engineering classes this fall, taught by three teachers.

Schroeder said the Engineering Academy began with one course and 30 students in the 2010-11 school year and has grown to four courses, a dedicated engineering lab replete with 3-D printers, an active Engineering Club and an impressive advisory board.

Engineering Academy courses include introduction to engineering design, principles of engineering, digital electronics and computer-integrated manufacturing. The latter course enhances computer modeling skills by applying principles of robotics and animation to the creation of models and three-dimensional designs.

Rich Cometta, who teaches the principles of engineering class, said it’s applied physics come to life. Second-year engineering students typically take that class.

Cometta defines engineering as the utilization of science and math principles to their ends for designing and manufacturing things and solving problems.

Anytime students can get their hands dirty and play around with technology they will be more engaged, Cometta said.

“The jobs they will be competing for and are working toward have not been created yet,” Cometta said. “We are preparing them for the workplace where they will be competing in a global economy. With the growth in 3-D printing, the opportunities are endless.”

Mark Tanzillo, the academy director and a mathematics teacher, said planning for the academy began in 2007 when Robert Fore was the Merced Union High School District superintendent. He said the academy’s history has been an up-and-down process that started slow but has made giant leaps in the past two years.

Tanzillo said the academy is in the last year of a five-year, $425,000 federal grant that was used for training, equipment, materials and curriculum development. He said they want to provide students with opportunities in technical fields and the chance to go to a four-year college or university.

Tanzillo credits Schroeder for the development of the 10-member local advisory board for the academy. The group meets four times a year and represents the “movers and shakers” in the engineering field.

The advisory board includes engineering professors from Merced College and UC Merced, Tanzillo said. He said he would like to see the number of business and community partners increase.

Morgan Reschenberg, a senior this fall who has taken three engineering courses and is active in the Engineering Club, said the engineering program is an extremely valuable asset. It gives students a chance to connect with other students having similar interests; be exposed to higher levels of science, technology, engineering and math curriculum; and apply things they learn in their classes in a very hands-on manner.

“Too often students become lost in math and science because they don’t see the real-world significance of the calculations they are learning or the theorems they’re practicing,” Reschenberg said. “That is not the case for students involved in the engineering program.”

Reschenberg’s mother, Leslie Reschenberg, is a science and art teacher at McSwain Elementary School and a member of the Advisory Board. She said she has always had a deep interest in science and her two other children, Morgan and Davis, are taking Buhach Colony engineering courses.

“I think the Engineering Academy is great; it’s a great group of people,” Leslie Reschenberg said. She said the advisory board is trying not only to help with extracurricular opportunities at colleges and the community but potentially could become the fundraising arm for the academy, in purchasing equipment and helping with field trips.

Leslie Reschenberg said members of the BCHS Engineering Club came to her fifth-sixth grade class at McSwain and offered enrichment training in robotics.

“It was a very rigorous program,” she said. “It was very impressive to watch.”

Bryan Ewing, 15, a junior this fall, has looked at law, medical and engineering fields. He’s still open to options but is looking at the economy and what one can do and how much power they will have in the engineering field.

His classmate, Harrison Hobbs, who will be a sophomore this fall, said he would like to go into the mechanical engineering field.

Hobbs said he has always liked to create things. He said the world will continue to revolve around people who are able to make things.

“Since I was 5 or 6 I have liked to take things apart,” Hobbs said. “That’s good and bad when you dismantle your mom’s computer. I’ve done bad things taking stuff apart.”

Blanca Rodriguez, guidance counselor with the Engineering Academy, recruits engineering students when she speaks to incoming freshmen at area middle schools. This year’s list of academy students includes 20 females, 17 more than were enrolled last spring.

A counselor for nine years and a career educator with the Merced County Office of Education for 15 years, Rodriguez said engineering students are more engaged in school and tend to do better on their grades, and that this crosses over to math and English studies.

At some point the Engineering Academy may include courses in aerospace engineering, biotechnical engineering, civil engineering and architecture. Schroeder said she hopes there will be job-shadowing experiences, internships and more partnerships with people in various engineering industries.

Sun-Star staff writer Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dyawger@mercedsunstar.com.

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