STEM, manufacturing career pathways help guide students
District 214's STEM, manufacturing career pathways help guide students
Maram Safi and Abby Farmer were both interested in science and engineering when they started high school four years ago.
After taking a mix of courses in District 214's engineering and manufacturing career pathways, both graduated in May with a clear idea of their next steps and passions. Safi will study electrical engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, while Farmer pursues industrial engineering at Bradley University in Peoria.
The two credit their teachers, the rigorous pathway courses and the learning experiences they had in and out of the classroom for making the transition to college easier.
"Being able to talk about these (career pathway) experiences when you're going through the college application process really sets you apart and makes you different," said Farmer, who attended Elk Grove High School.
Over a decade ago, District 214 pioneered its first career pathway -- manufacturing -- at Wheeling High School with the help of the village's economic development department, manufacturers and business leaders.
The goal was to address the shortage of skilled workers in the manufacturing industry and, together, they built a pipeline of talent by giving students access to internships, high-tech equipment and career credentials.
Today, students interested in STEM and manufacturing careers take a combination of technology, engineering and manufacturing courses to give them a well-rounded understanding of these industries.
Students can earn early college credits through advanced classes and gain real-world skills through site visits, apprenticeships and access to advanced prototyping labs with state-of-the-art robotics and manufacturing equipment.
As part of the STEM and manufacturing curriculum, students build and program robots from scratch. They also design and fabricate energy-efficient, high-mileage vehicles that they later race at a statewide competition.
Many middle school students in District 214's sender schools can explore the STEM and manufacturing career pathways before they begin high school. For example, nearly all of the district's schools offer after-school engineering and manufacturing programs for middle school students, taught by District 214 educators.
Through a partnership with Prospect Heights School District 23, MacArthur Middle School students participate on the district's award-winning WildStang robotics team and, in turn, the team is provided with space to create and build robots.
Based on industry demand, the district has also enhanced its automated manufacturing curriculum and updated the manufacturing and engineering laboratories at each school. Wheeling's lab, for example, has doubled in size and includes a dedicated area for new automation and robotics cells, funded by a $150,000 donation from HydraForce in Lincolnshire.
Angel Villegas graduated in May from Wheeling and was selected for an apprenticeship with Innovative Components in Schaumburg. The apprenticeship means the company will pay for his education and provide him with on-the-job experience within the manufacturing industry.
The apprenticeship, he said, means a lot because he won't be in debt after college and is able to pursue a career that he loves. He said he is grateful for the skills and knowledge he gained in the district's engineering and manufacturing career pathways.
"We have such a great opportunity here, (and) more people should take advantage of it," he said.