Workplace simulation part of Brooke courses

NOT A TYPICAL CLASSROOM — Students in the digital electronics class at Brooke High School listen to instructions from Thomas Bane, their teacher. While the classroom appears typical, its students, and others in the school’s engineering program, will be using a 3-D printer and other new technology while working together in a “company” they have formed.

WELLSBURG — At first glance, Room 4 at Brooke High School might seem like an ordinary science classroom, with students seated on stools at a large, green lab table.

But the teens are not only students in the school’s digital electronics class, they are “employees” of Steel River Engineering who will be working together on projects involving a 3-D printer, laser engraver and other new technology.

Started last year, the course is one of several in the school’s engineering program, which is one of more than a dozen career technical programs that enable students to gain hands-on experience in fields ranging from broadcasting to cosmetology.

The engineering course and a few others were supported by a $35,000 grant from ArcelorMittal and $14,000 from the West Virginia Department of Education.

Each is participating in the simulated workplace initiative begun by the West Virginia Department of Education. The approach involves students forming and naming their own companies and assuming the roles of staff.

These “employees” wear badges and may undergo random drug testing conducted by an independent company hired by the Brooke County school board.

Engineering instructor Thomas Bane sees himself more as a facilitator who oversees the students’ work, setting deadlines to keep them on task while allowing them to pursue projects that interest them.

In some ways, he serves as a manager, dividing the students into teams.

“I told them, don’t tell me you don’t like a person because I will put you together because in real life, you have to learn to work with other people,” he said.

But the students also have the authority to report a “co-worker” who has committed a safety violation.

Bane said before enrolling in the engineering program, students were interviewed as though they were applying for a job.

He said there’s little chance that any would not be “hired,” though some students have found in the first few days the program is not for them.

Bane said there are 44 in the program’s various courses, ranging from seniors to freshmen, though the younger students find they must be very good in math.

He said the students must complete two courses covering the foundations of engineering and may choose from four electives focused on various aspects of the field.

In addition to digital electronics, they are: Aerospace engineering, computer integrated manufacturing and engineering development and design. Those who complete the engineering development and design course may earn dual credit at West Virginia University.

Bane said students in the engineering development and design course will create inventions for WVU’s Engineering Fair, where the assessments of the judges will determine their grades.

When Bane was teaching in Mingo County, his students presented at the fair proposals for preventing drivers from leaving small children or pets in cars, alerting emergency crews of emergencies involving off-road vehicles and their locations and providing electricity to third world countries and rural areas.

During the school year, Bane’s students must compile a record of their work in a digital portfolio and deliver a presentation, while dressed in business formal attire, before members of the career technical program’s advisory council, which includes local business leaders.

Bane said students who complete the program may go on to a variety of fields, from aerospace engineering to computer integrated manufacturing.

“It just leads them to so many things,” he said.

Bane said a former student from Mingo County recently earned a dual degree in aerospace and mechanical engineering and is working toward a doctorate.

Bane taught in Mingo County for six years following a 15-year stint as a computer programmer that included working as a civilian contractor at a Naval submarine base.

“I’ve wanted to be a math teacher since the fourth grade,” he said.

Bane’s preparation for the Brooke High School course included 600 hours of training through Project Lead the Way, a nonprofit organization that provides science, technology, engineering and math curricula and training for schools at all age levels.

The engineering course is helping Brooke students to explore their own career aspirations.

Max Camilletti, a junior from Wellsburg, said he’s interested in working in biomedical engineering “because it deals with prosthetics and artificial organs.”

He said of the course, “It’s really fun. You have more freedom to do things you’re actually going to do in life.”

Riley McAllister, another junior from Wellsburg, said he’s interested in all facets of engineering and he enjoys the class because of “the variety of stuff you get to work with and the hands-on experiences that help me to prepare for a career down the line.”