Career Exploration Program Brings Local S.T.E.M. Academy Students to Villanova

Career Exploration Program Brings Local S.T.E.M. Academy Students to Villanova

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) used to be a term familiar only to educators and those working in related fields. Now, STEM related news can be found in the local paper and national magazines, on search engine news sites and top ranked blogs. The federal government is also giving STEM education increased attention. In response to U.S. industry leaders’ concerns over the lack of qualified American employees in these areas, President Obama’s proposed 2014 budget includes $3.1 billion for STEM education with a particular focus on reaching students K-12. This is an increase of $195 million or 6.7 percent over the fiscal year 2012 enacted level.

Villanova University’s College of Engineering became involved with STEM education nearly a decade ago — well before it became a familiar news topic. Currently engaged in nine different STEM programs, each year the College reaches more than 650 students from sixth through twelfth grades. This summer, a partnership with the Downingtown S.T.E.M. Academy became the latest addition to the College’s STEM education portfolio.

The Downingtown S.T.E.M. Academy opened in 2011 as one of three high schools in the Downingtown (Pennsylvania) School District. Students must apply and be accepted into this program, which engages them in “rigorous, challenging academic work that requires a mindset of growth and effort,” according to the school’s website. In addition to standard high school courses – from English to gym class – the Academy’s curriculum allows juniors and seniors to select between Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Pathways. At the end of their junior year, students are encouraged to take advantage of a Career Exploration opportunity through which they can gain greater insight into the STEM field of their choice. The program enables students to complete their academic requirements while participating in a career experience with a community partner in industry or academia. Career Exploration also helps teens make informed decisions regarding their future education goals and career choices.

This summer, five Downingtown S.T.E.M. Academy students shadowed faculty in Villanova’s College of Engineering. Rising senior Evan Hermans spent a week with Senior Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Research, Dr. Gerard ‘Jerry’ Jones. Early on they discovered they have something unique in common — a passion for engineering that began at a very young age. “I think I was about 5 years old when I knew I wanted to be an engineer,” says Evan. Evidence that “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” he notes that his mother is a Villanova graduate working in civil engineering and his father is an electrical engineer. Having a basic understanding of his parents’ fields, Evan chose to focus his time at Villanova on mechanical engineering, a discipline he is less familiar with.

A large part of Evan’s Career Exploration required completing an engineering project. When presenting him with options for the assignment, Dr. Jones took into consideration Evan’s passion for building Rube Goldberg machines.

“I thought a gravity-driven water network would appeal to him,” he says, and Evan agreed. In addition to hands-on learning experiences, Career Exploration also provided Evan with a better sense of what’s needed to succeed in the workplace. “Spending time in a professional and academic environment required me to practice and improve my basic communication skills, both written and verbal. I also learned more about interacting and socializing with adults,” he says. One of the stated goals of the program is to give students an understanding of the importance of the intangibles like punctuality, initiative, adaptability, courtesy, dependability and honesty.

Dr. Jones, who was clearly impressed with Evan’s enthusiasm and ability, noted how the partnership with Downingtown S.T.E.M. Academy fully supports the College’s strategic educational and outreach missions. He adds, “Our faculty members really enjoy working with these bright, highly motivated and engaging high school students from the Academy. In just 21 hours, we see them grow in their understanding of engineering as a profession and the type of work done by specific engineering disciplines. In addition, they gain valuable technical and soft skills including teaming, communication and the importance of precise thinking and speaking.”  

The College of Engineering looks forward to continuing this partnership with the S.T.E.M. Academy in the coming year, and remains committed to its other educational outreach programs as well. Details about each of these STEM programs can be found on our website at engineering.villanova.edu.