Technical Student Association at Lakewood Ranch High School Spurs Interest in STEM

Career and technical student associations (TSA) through their respective missions play a prominent role in creating an environment where students can aspire to be the best in advanced technology careers. FLATE recognizes the importance of these organizations and has established partnerships with various career and technical student organizations throughout Florida. The Engineering Club at Lakewood Ranch High School (LRHS) is one such organization FLATE works with, and is part of TSA—an international association focused on different areas of engineering and technology.

LRHS TSA Students with Quinton Jones,
at NCPN Conference in Orlando.
The TSA chapter at Lakewood Ranch High School started approximately nine years ago, and has been a dominant national team for the past six years. There are currently 34 different projects, TSA students are currently working on, that focus on developing various skills set that range from public speaking, to building robots, animatronics, to computerized woodworking. Of these projects, students enrolled in the engineering club are involved in at least three projects/events throughout the year. Some of these include computer web design, video gaming, designing and creating architectural designs and models.

Given its involvement in various projects the TSA at LRHS enjoys a robust reputation. They recently ranked first in the nation for video game design, and hold third place in the nation for designing and creating architectural models. The award winning architectural model was on display at the 2011 National Career Pathways Network Conference in Orlando, FL., which served as a platform for students to showcase local career & tech programs in Florida.(You can read about the Florida Student Showcase in the November edition of NCPN Connections). Additionally, they ranked second in the nation last year for creating a carbon dioxide powered dragster that could race through a 90 ft track in less than a second. The TSA team has also been invited by Universal Technologies Company to participate at various FRC (FIRST Robotics Competition) events, and to visit its site so students can get insider know-how about UTC engineers, and interact with industry professionals who have insider knowledge. It is such opportunities that get students like Jamie Marchini excited about TSA. Marchini, a senior at LRHS who is currently a TSA member says the projects have reinforced her passion for STEM. The experience has given her the ability to participate in regional/national competitions, gain fresh perspective/ideas on some of the projects she’s working on, and made her “a better learner overall.”

The root of excellence clearly lies in hands-on projects that are targeted to enhance students understanding of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Teachers design projects that are not strictly textual based, but offer new ideas to students every semester, and are fun to learn. “We’re not just making mail boxes, or bird houses, we’re designing fun things like go carts and hovercrafts—something that kids can really care about.” Jones takes a subliminal approach to teaching STEM whereby students don’t realize they have to think about mathematics, or science, rather they take on these subjects by showcasing practical applications of it in everyday life. “A lot of courses you can’t really be creative, but STEM related subjects allow students to exercise their creativity and sharpen hands-on knowledge” Jones said.

Award winning architectual model,
designed by LRHS TSA students,
on display at NCPN Conference
Another component that has added to LRHS’s TSA team success is the curriculum itself. Classes/curriculum are designed to follow the nine step design process that starts with researching, planning, designing their product, working through the engineering portion using tools/machinery to accomplish the assigned task. For example, a large portion of the drafting program at LRHS is aligned with the SolidWorks Administrative Certification. In 2010, LRHS was the only school in Manatee County to get students tested on the SolidWorks Certification. Eighteen students passed the test, out which three students scored 100%. “It is a great opportunity for my students and my school, and that is the sole reason why I am pushing for students to take the next level certification” Jones said. In addition to the SolidWorks Administrative Certification, students are also encouraged to take the MSSC certification. “MSSC especially is great as it offers vast transferability of skills across industries” Jones said.

The Florida Technology Student Association (FLTSA), SkillsUSA and FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) are some of the organizations FLATE is closely involved with and actively supports. FLTSA fosters personal growth, leadership, and opportunities in technology, innovation, design, and engineering through co-curricular activities, competitive events and related programs. SkillsUSA is a partnership between students, teachers and industry representatives providing resources for teachers, high school and college students pursuing technical education/occupations. The South Florida Robotics invitational functions as a pathway for local students to participate at the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) robotics competition which is a national robotics competition.

As part of the partnership, FLATE invests time and resources to design challenges, serves as judges in regional competitions, helps gather necessary equipment for the participants, and assists in securing a location to host some of these competitions. FLATE also helps set-up the arena, provides financial support through event sponsorship and team registrations. The initiative is part of FLATE’s effort to enhance technology education programs, and to provide extra-curricular and leadership skills for middle/high school students. In addition to FLATE’s involvement with career & technical organizations, FLATE recently named Greg McGrew, engineering instructor at LRHS 2011 Manufacturing Secondary Educator-of-the-Year. You can find out more about the awards and these organizations at www.fl-ate.org, or by contacting Marilyn Barger, executive director of FLATE at barger@fl-ate.org, and Dave Gula at gula@fl-ate.org. For more information about Lakewood Ranch High School and its engineering program contact Quintin Jones at jonesq@manateeschools.net.