Mentors' Expertise Fills Gaps in High School Programs

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Harley Wheeler (far left) and Jesse McDonald (middle), both juniors at Lewiston High School, talk over the design of their robot's arm with mentor Bryce Winterbottom, an associate mechanical engineer at Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories. Their robot received a silver award at the Idaho SKILLS USA competition.

Industry mentors are helping Idaho high school educators transition from teaching traditional agriculture, woods, and metal shop classes to teaching engineering technology programs.

Teachers at the two largest high schools in the project report their mentors' expertise is filling gaps in their programs. "It got the kids really interested in learning technological design, because they were able to see that it's real world," Moscow High School Teacher Zachary Russell said of assistance he has received from Mike Meehan, president of Biketronics Inc.

Jesse McDonald, a Lewiston High School student, summarized the value of the help he has received from Bryce Winterbottom, an associate mechanical engineer at Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories (SEL) in Pullman, Washington, this way: "He knows what he's doing and he can tell us what we should do. And [he] teaches us how to do what we're doing better, how to avoid specific things you should not do in programming and building [robots]."

Lewis-Clark State College and a collaborative team of regional organizations helped the high school teachers connect with mentors from manufacturing companies and provided SolidWorks software and professional development for teachers in six, rural Idaho school districts. The team includes Clearwater Economic Development Association, Valley Vision, the American Manufacturers Network, and the University of Idaho.

The goal of the ATE project is to dispel students' perceptions of manufacturing work as dirty and rote, said Linda S. Stricklin. She is director of Workforce Training at the college in Lewiston, Idaho, and serves as principal investigator of the National Science Foundation Advanced Technological Education grant that supported the collaborative team's work with high schools and facilitated the mentoring. Additional information about the project is available at

Two SEL Employees Volunteer Each Week at Lewiston High School

Winterbottom and Glen Riley, supervisor of Plastics Engineering at SEL's manufacturing facility in Lewiston, have spent two to three hours on most Tuesday evenings during the past two school years working with the students on preparations for the SKILLS USA competition.

Winterbottom helps the students design and program their robots. Riley has taught the students about injection molding and guided the team that worked on the SKILLS USA urban search and rescue challenge. He's also organized students' tours at Schweitzer's facilities in Pullman and Lewiston, where the company makes power protection and automation products for electric utilities worldwide.

"I cherish every time I see these guys come in because I know that they are going to be hitting things and doing things I never would be able to do otherwise," said William B. Jones, a teacher at Lewiston High School. During the past three years the general high school added a pre-engineering curriculum with robotics and SolidWorks 3-D design.

Jones said the ATE grant provided him with professional development to inform his use of SolidWorks software in the three-year pre-engineering program. "The grant has certainly enhanced my life," he said. Altogether he teaches 140 students in construction, advanced metals, welding, and manufacturing courses. He also serves as the faculty lead for the school's SKILLS USA chapter, an extracurricular student leadership program.

"So having these guys come in and help has been a tremendous help for me. I started about 40 years ago this year," said Jones.

Even with a doctorate and his college teaching experience, Jones said, "It's been really nice having this outside support come in and fill in some of my voids; I know I have them. There's been so many changes the past three years I've really struggled to keep up with them." He was working with SEL's community liaison on another project when he learned of the ATE project grant at Lewis-Clark State College. SEL's community liaison connected Jones with Riley and then Winterbottom became involved. Winterbottom, who commutes 30 miles to work in Pullman, resides in Lewiston and graduated 11 years ago from Lewiston High School.

Winterbottom describes his and Riley's involvement as simply grassroots volunteering. "We influence and we try to inspire kids to aspire to technical education, but not necessarily working for us [at SEL]. That would be great. But that's not our objective for being there," he said.

Working with the same group of students over two years has given him the opportunity to see students' progress and gauge the impact of his and Riley's mentoring. "I've seen tremendous growth in a few of the students," he said, adding that he tries to encourage all the students to be self-motivated because he thinks intrinsic drive makes the biggest difference in students' progress.

The video at shows the Lewiston students' work.

He is particularly impressed by the drive and skills of Jesse McDonald, who is the programmer for one of the robots. "At the end of his junior year he is embracing programming at its core. He's moved on from diagram-based programming and is now writing code as you would in industry. That's a big progression to make in two years for a high school-level student. And his competency and ability to write code that would be useful in the workplace is extremely well developed," Winterbottom said.

The robot that McDonald and teammate Harley Wheeler created and operated received a silver award at the Idaho SKILLS USA competition in early April. Their engineering notebook received more points than any other competitors. McDonald attributed this to them following Winterbottom's advice for properly documenting their work, including captioning their illustrations.

Both boys said Winterbottom's mentoring has influenced their career plans. Wheeler wants to go into robotics engineering; McDonald would like to invent things: either programming or designing robots and computers.

Entrepreneur Shares Design Insights at Moscow High School

The ATE grant has had a positive impact at Moscow High School too.

Engineering Technology Teacher Zachary Russell said he has been able to incorporate the SolidWorks software into his foundations of technology, technology design, engineering design, and drafting classes at Moscow High School. He also teaches as an adjunct instructor at the University of Idaho.

"It's opened up what we could do. It's great," he said, explaining that students can now do projects using up-to-date CNC equipment.

Russell said having Mike Meehan, president of Biketronics, as a mentor is incredibly valuable to him and his students. Meehan had previously served on the high school's advisory committee for what was previously known as the Metals, Woods, and Drafting Department.

Since becoming involved in the ATE project, Meehan visits with Russell's technology design students three times each semester. He talks with the students about the design process his company uses to make sound systems and other accessories for Harley-Davidson motorcycles. He has also helped Russell evaluate students' designs for beach chairs. And, toward the end of the fall semester Meehan listened to students' pitches for the new products they developed.

Meehan's encouragement of entrepreneurship includes setting aside part of his Moscow manufacturing facility for a community fabrication lab.

"I think Mike enjoys being with kids. With his fab lab goals I see it really fitting with that younger population ... He really wants people to do business and he wants it to be American made. He's really passionate about that," Russell said.

  • education
  • engineering
  • software
  • technology
    ATE Impacts

Last Edited: May 5th, 2014 at 6:54am by Madeline Patton

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