Palatine technology teacher is creating problem solvers
Applied technology teacher Alex Larson found his niche at Palatine High School explaining technically complex subjects in ways students with a variety of experience levels and learning styles can grasp.
Inspired by the auto repair teacher he had as a Palatine High student, Larson now prepares his students for careers in engineering and advanced manufacturing through classes not available to him when he was their age.
"I love having the ability to inspire the younger generation to pursue big things and find their path," Larson said.
Students and parents today recognize the demand for the kinds of skills Larson teaches in his computer-integrated manufacturing and computer-aided design classes, as well as the cost benefits of testing one's interest in those fields before college.
Manufacturing is no longer an industry for unskilled laborers working in dark, dingy environments. It's conducted in clean, high-tech spaces where well-honed math and science skills are paramount.
It's also a field today where interpersonal skills are needed as much as technical know-how. And so, in Larson's classes, students partake in group projects that require effective communication with peers and experienced mentors from the Rolling Meadows-based aerospace and defense technology firm Northrop Grumman Corporation.
"I love it when I see kids connecting the dots through all the science classes they've taken," Larson said.
Palatine High senior Natalie Wohlgemuth said she became more outspoken in class and on group projects under Larson's tutelage. His skills as a teacher lie not only in his ability to explain the material, but in showing sincere concern for his students, she said.
Though focused more on art earlier in her high school career, Natalie became inspired to see the connections between art and science and will be majoring in mechanical engineering at Michigan Tech University in the fall.
Another senior, Hannah Tomkins, has been taking science, technology, engineering and math classes since seventh grade. She is heading to Purdue University to study engineering.
While others might just teach the technical skills, Larson puts an emphasis on learning to problem-solve, which is the heart of engineering, Hannah said.
Senior Jerome Gabriel took his first applied tech class this year because the robot-building and other group projects in Larson's class sounded like fun. Now he hopes to go into a STEM-related field after graduating from Illinois State University.
Jerome admits he initially felt like a fish out of water in the class, but Larson's personalized approach soon caught him up.
"Basically he just checked up on me a lot," Jerome said. "One of the lessons I really learned was to pay attention to the task at hand. If I had known I would enjoy the class this much, I would have taken some earlier."
Palatine High School Principal Gary Steiger said Larson is as well known for his connection with the students and willingness to go the extra degree for them, as he is for his proven ability to teach the material.