We are looking for that really bright student who hungers to know much more about a scientific topic but is surrounded by family and friends who haven’t the knowledge, skills, and abilities to take them beyond their current school level. As a teacher, you may know many such students and we need your help to encourage them to consider Power Mountain Engineering!
We introduce them to the scientist or engineer they’ve always wanted to meet and give them the resources, training and project framework to safely explore a topic in depth. At Power Mountain, they can build the machines they dream about.
Power Mountain Curriculum
Our time with students is spent walking them through the familiar Engineering Design Process, illustrated below1.
We execute the Design Process within a professional framework that requires students to make responsible decisions that can be described and defended to sponsors, stakeholders, and other engineers.
For example, recently completed projects required the students to achieve these learning milestones:
- Produce a requirements document that sets goals for the prototype and establishes the tests needed to measure the outcome.
- Teach each other the new technology through 40 or more short presentations over the course of a single project. The activity is called the 10-Minute University
- Estimate the total project cost and schedule
- Hold a formal design review before family, friends, and community professionals
- Fill out Purchase Order Request Forms for all materials, components, and services
- Manage the project with cost controls, weekly schedule reviews, intense group communication, and detailed documentation recorded in an on-line notebook
- Publish the results in an IEEE or ASME professional-style paper
Technical knowledge, project management, and manufacturing skills are not the only things we teach. We emphasize that large engineering projects require learning the soft skills of face-to-face communication, good listening, respect for others, and working together toward a common goal.
Power Mountain Outcomes
PME conducted two pilot projects at Fossil Ridge High School during the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years. Students built a Valveless Pulsejet Engine the first year, followed by a Supersonic Ping-Pong Ball Launcher the second year. The following activity data shows the level of effort for both projects:
- Meeting Schedule – Students met twice each week for three hours per meeting. Projects average 36 meetings or 108 total hours to complete (5 months).
- Community Volunteers – Volunteer populations averaged 4 per night for a total of 432 volunteer contact hours per project to complete.
- Attendance – Not a single student dropped out. Both projects enjoyed a 95.4% attendance rate with 0% attrition.
Engineering Education is Changing
Here’s the truth: Not everyone is cut out to be an engineer. Makes sense, right? All that college-level math and science doesn’t appeal to most people. Even those with a high math and science aptitude aren’t assured of a degree in engineering by just enrolling in their favorite university. On average, 50% of college freshmen entering engineering studies fail to obtain a degree in five years and it has been that way for the last 60 years2. Almost all of that student attrition occurs by the end of the sophomore year.
Reasons for the high attrition are many3. Surveys of engineering students show that some have insufficient preparation for college work, which is exacerbated by the relentless high pace of classroom information. Some qualified students leave because they never develop a sense of belonging in an engineering program. Those feelings of isolation are reinforced by the requirement that they teach themselves much of the material outside the classroom and that homework load displaces an otherwise familiar social life. In high school, students fail to develop a true understanding of what to expect in their freshman year and may possess little if any of the commitment needed to graduate with an engineering degree.
Engineering colleges around the country confront the attrition problem by inserting hands-on engineering design work into the freshman curriculum. This real engineering activity helps maintain student interest in the program during the basic skill-building phase of the curriculum over the first two years (chemistry, mathematics, physics, computer programming, and writing). Additionally, many engineering colleges arrange for tutoring and social programs to help at-risk freshmen adjust to the university. At Power Mountain, we simply extend the successful application of college-level project instruction to the high-school student while informing them about the true nature of college life and what it even means to be an engineer in the first place.
As any student can tell you, great things happen after dark and that includes Power Mountain Engineering! Instead of local businesses just providing money and distant advice on STEM worker education, Power Mountain brings working business professionals to the school to interact with students over a difficult STEM project. Students and volunteers meet in the school’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) facilities to learn design and manufacturing skills in a research context. The arrangement has many benefits:
- Students benefit by absorbing a clear picture of career and college life from working engineers over the course of a long project.
- Business volunteers see for themselves the level of student knowledge and commitment in the face of a difficult task. Volunteers feel that they are making a real difference in the lives of a future STEM employee.
- Schools benefit by an expanded use of their CTE facilities, which brings with it donated materials and equipment.
Power Mountain is committed to community education in science and engineering. Tapping into a community’s vast knowledge base can make great things happen after dark.
1“Engineering in the Classroom,” NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/edu/teach/resources/engineering-in-the-classroom.php
2Brandin Geisinger and D. Raj Raman, “Why They Leave: Understanding Student Attrition from Engineering Majors,” Research Institute for Studies in Education, Iowa State University, Ames, IA, 2013 http://lib.dr.iastate.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1890&context=abe_eng_pubs
3Stephen B. Taylor, et al., “Freshman Retention Study in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Arkansas,” Department of Mechanical Engineering, Proceedings of the 2005 Midwest Section Conference of the American Society for Engineering Education, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR, September 14-26, 2005 https://www.asee.org/documents/sections/midwest/2005/Taylo_Nutter.pdf