Ninth and tenth graders in Pittsylvania County who are considering careers in manufacturing or health sciences can start honing their skills with the division’s new, immersive STEM Academy.
Launched this year as a pilot program, STEM Academy is designed to bridge the gap between the middle school Career Connections program and upper-class high school offerings at the Pittsylvania Career and Technical Center, Governor’s School, and Academy. of engineering and technology, said Angela Rigney, director of vocational and technical education for Pittsylvania County Schools.
The Danville Regional Foundation provided a grant of approximately $500,000 to help the school division reinvent the program to meet the needs of the community, and at the same time, equip students with locally in-demand skills so that they can return or remain in their home communities as adults, Rigney said.
The program serves 40 ninth-graders who attend the academy in the morning, followed by 40 10th-graders who attend in the afternoon. Students apply to participate in the program and they are selected from the county’s four high schools, Rigney said.
This year, the program is one semester long, but will expand to two semesters next year to provide more students the opportunity to attend, Rigney said.
The two main areas of focus – advanced manufacturing, which includes welding, machining, automation and robotics, and health and medicine, which cover a wide range of topics within this area – are complemented by environmental science and biology courses.
Both focus areas were based on regional employment needs, and science courses are designed to show students how their core courses are relevant to their career classes, Rigney said.
The advanced fabrication arena has 10 virtual welders, which allow students to learn about three forms of welding – Mig, Tig and stick welding – in a virtual environment.
Advanced manufacturing students also have access to five Haas mini-mills specifically designed for middle school students through a partnership with Haas Automation, Rigney said.
Haas mini mills perform precision machining and coding while simulating an actual factory setting. Students can also learn to program and operate five Mecademic robots, Rigney said.
On the health and medical side, students learn about the different types of health care settings and the careers available at those institutions, said health and medical science educator Melanie Estes.
They also learn about body systems, diseases, interventions and therapies, medical terminology and technologies.
“It’s a good foundation course,” Estes said, adding that student interest runs the gamut, from veterinary medicine to radiology to cybersecurity.
Jayden Smith is a ninth grader at Gretna High School. He took the Career Connections course in college and was matched with the manufacturing sector. Smith wants to learn the basics of welding so he can develop an interest in school beyond sports.
Career Connections is a nine-week course in sixth grade and 18 weeks for seventh and eighth graders. The program started five years ago at Chatham Middle School and quickly expanded to all middle schools, Rigney said.
Lauren Gauldin, a ninth grader at Tunstall High School, has a personal reason for wanting to explore the field of medicine and health. Gauldin said she was devastated to see her mother battling cancer and not being able to do anything to help her. Sadly, Gauldin’s mother passed away last year. As a result, Gauldin is interested in pursuing a career in oncology and studying cancer cells.
A key feature of the new STEM Academy is that part of the day is dedicated to a collaborative project that will culminate at the end of the semester with a trade show.
The students work as a team to develop a fictional business that includes both sides of the curriculum – manufacturing and medicine and health, said environmental science professor Lenora Goodwin.
Each team also hires a member to serve as a project manager to ensure that all the many tasks – from developing an overall idea, to writing mission and vision statements, to creation of a logo and the creation of a human resources department – have been completed.
Teams use real-life project management tools to accomplish these tasks, as well as learn how to communicate with other team members, problem solve and meet deadlines, Goodwin said.
Other skills developed through this exercise include resume writing, learning to send emails, and interviewing for a job.
STEM Academy instructors described some of the fictitious ventures devised so far, such as using an old oil rig as a rehabilitation center for endangered sea animals. This uses both underwater welding and medicine and health.
Another group wants to come up with a prosthesis that can be controlled by a person’s nervous system.
The goal is to include everyone in the group, Goodwin said.
Rigney believes the STEM Academy is another important part of Pittsylvania County’s educational offering.
“I believe giving students the opportunity to pursue both program pathways at the college level will equip them with the skills and knowledge needed for specialized career pathways for PCTC programs,” she said. .