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Students get to work with the big Cat

Oak Creek High School and Caterpillar offer STEM academy for young engineers

Bill Morse is Oak Creek High School’s STEM coordinator and one of <br />three program teachers.

Bill Morse is Oak Creek High School’s STEM coordinator and one of
three program teachers. Photo By Rick Romano

Aug. 30, 2011

Oak Creek - Blending traditional classroom academics with hands-on experience, Oak Creek High School and the Caterpillar Inc. have formed a partnership designed to whet the appetite of students considering engineering careers.

The result is a special Academy for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM - in this case involving an intensive, daily educational experience at the Caterpillar plant in South Milwaukee.

Almost 40 students on Thursday begin studies ranging from algebra and trigonometry to a broad overview of engineering and 3D modeling design.

Split shift

They will split their days between the STEM Academy and regular high school courses. Buses will transport them to and from each location.

"We have had programs like this for some time," said Bill Morse, the high school's coordinator and one of three program teachers. "This is a rigorous program that is technical and gives the students a real-world experience."

Students were selected based on their career cluster and tested acumen. According to Morse, students who complete the half-day, yearlong program will be in line for advanced placement in college courses.

"The program is for 11th- and 12th-graders," Morse said, though there are a few sophomores involved. "One of the big things about engineering programs in college is that the dropout rate is somewhere around 50 percent. This will give students entering those programs a head start on what the academics are like and experience in a potential employer's plant to see if they even want to do that type of work."

Morse called the program "rigorous" with a quick pace.

"Being able to work inside a place like Caterpillar is a great opportunity to see the environment," Morse said. "Students who think high school has too many rules will learn that companies have strict rules as well. For example, they need their workforce to show up on time and follow safety precautions."

A national trend

The STEM Academy is part Project Lead the Way, a national program to produce more and well-prepared engineers. Oak Creek High School became nationally certified as a result of already teaching those same courses.

Caterpillar soon will identify company professionals as mentor-teachers working with students and high school faculty, said Amy Malingowski, who as community relations manager is coordinating the company's side of the partnership.

She said the school district approached Caterpillar when enrollment increased and space became scarce.

"As discussions ensued, both parties realized what a great opportunity this could be for the students and our company," Malingowski said. "It gives Caterpillar the chance to develop the talent of tomorrow."

Morse said the academy is a natural step for Oak Creek High School.

"We have developed a strong technology program," he said. "This type of partnership just makes it stronger."

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