Chippewa Valley Moves Forward with Two-Year Engineering Academy
A career and technical education program designed to prepare students for 21st century careers in science and technology is on its way to Chippewa Valley Schools.
With no end to the world’s dependence on science and technology in sight, the future can be summed up in one word: mechatronics.
Defined as a combination of mechanical and electrical engineering, with a dash of computer know-how, mechatronics/robotics is slated to become the newest addition to Chippewa Valley Schools’ career and technical education options.
However, this program will be unlike any the district has implemented to date.
Developed with a two-year curriculum, students will take not one, but several courses designed specifically for what Chippewa Valley CTE Director Claire Brisson calls, “The Energy and Innovation Academy.”
In addition to their state-required common core classes, students in “the academy” will also study mechatronics, physics, energy studies, English and social studies during their junior and senior years. Their English and social studies courses will be designed to supplement their mechatronics studies and a senior capstone project will provide opportunities for dual enrollment, work experience or industry research projects before graduation.
“It’s multidisciplinary and it’s in high demand,” Brisson said. “A mechatronics skill set is needed in a broad spectrum of both technician level, all the way through engineering level occupations, and it’s a skill set that’s used in a number of different industry sectors.”
Recently named a Michigan Priority Area, mechatronics is being used in Homeland Security, alternative energy, robotics, advanced manufacturing, automation and numerous other emerging sectors.
“It can lay the groundwork for a number of pathways,” Brisson said. “I think we can give students at the high school level an experience that is multidisciplinary and give them choices on where they want to go.”
Mechatronics has real-world demand
Chippewa Valley High School alumnus and now ESG Automotive’s Vice President of Business Development Bill Mattingly couldn’t agree more.
“If there is an ability to put in a new program, mechatronics is the way to go,” Mattingly told the Chippewa school board Monday night. “These types of programs set the stage (for students to) go into careers that set them up so they can maintain a standard of living (and) raise a family …”
Mattingly said his company has 20 some positions open right now for individuals with mechatronics knowledge and skills.
Michael Wynblatt, Vice President of Eaton Corporation’s Innovation Center, echoed Mattingly’s support of mechatronics, and went on to stress to the board Brisson’s argument for a multidisciplinary approach to the program.
“What I’ve learned in 20 years of commercial innovation is that technology is an important piece, but it’s only one piece,” Wynblatt said. “Technologists also need an understanding of world problems. They need the skills to go out into the world and ask the right questions, to interview people and pull together information from diverse sources.”
The academy’s design recognizes this need by including social studies and English with the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) concepts at the heart of the program.
Academy's creation on district agenda
The program's future in Chippewa Valley was secured Monday night, with the school board expressing overwhelming support for the academy's creation.
“These are tremendous opportunities for our students,” said Trustee Frank Bednard. “We could be the district known for our engineers with a program such as this. I think we want to see it move on as fast as possible. Let’s get it in place. Let’s get it rolling.”
Although Executive Director of Secondary Education Ed Skiba promised the board he and Brisson would "move as aggressively as we can,” he said that realistically, it should take two to three years to make the academy a reality.
During this time, developers will have to design the program's courses and either find or train the individuals who will teach these subjects. The district will also need to refurbish some of its high school workshops and purchase new equipment, which Skiba said would likely be done through a bond.