Mar 14, 2008

Shakopee Schools Partner with Local Businesses to Develop Future Engineers

MINNEAPOLIS - According to research compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the United States and the world could face a severe shortage of engineers by the year 2025. Shakopee High School technology teacher Brad Thorpe initiated an innovative, “hands-on” educational program three years ago to help address this challenge by inspiring students to pursue careers in engineering.

Each year, the program has gained in popularity; to date, more than 150 students have participated. Recently, the program was accredited by the University of Minnesota, rewarding students with three college credits for each course completed.

As part of the program, students are exposed to engineering in real business environments with help from local companies Seagate, Toro and ADC. The companies first became involved by participating in a business advisory board. Their role was to provide real-world feedback on curriculum. Since that time, the companies’ roles have expanded.

“Periodically, we are asked to critique the students’ projects and provide them with feedback from a real-world business perspective,” said Ed Neu, an executive director at Seagate. “In addition to technical feedback, we try to impress on them the importance of developing ‘soft’ skills that are sometimes difficult for new engineers, such as planning, communicating and presenting.”

The course work is project-based, immersing students in rigorous hands-on engineering problems. And the students have fun with it. Recently, Thorpe’s students built “Rube Goldberg-style” mechanical machines that transferred energy via pulleys, wheels, axels, cams, levers, inclined planes and screws. Another group will soon design a ballistic ping-pong ball launcher.

More than 60 Seagate employees have gotten involved in the program by hosting student tours of Seagate’s facility in Shakopee, leading in-class engineering presentations, providing job shadowing or participating in the school’s career-exploration fairs. Employee groups from Toro and ADC have provided similar support.

“When I formed the advisory board, I could never have predicted all of this,” said Thorpe. “The relationships with these businesses have been rewarding beyond our expectations.”

Benefits Transcend the Classroom
Helping schools in this way also benefits the companies involved. “Not only is it the right thing to do for the community, but in light of the aging demographic of engineers in this country, we need to attract the best and brightest to our industry,” said Dave Brucks, executive director of reliability at Seagate. “This is one way to do it.”

According to T.J. Hendrickson, who teaches technology and engineering at Shakopee Middle School, business involvement is also beneficial for the school system. “It allows the school board to understand what the industry needs and expects of our students,” he said. “The businesses lend a great deal of credibility to our curriculum since students see what they have learned in class being applied at some of the world’s leading companies. The greatest moments happen when for the first time, students’ faces light up when they see a glimpse of what they could accomplish in their future careers.”

Tim Keller, a senior at Shakopee High School who is completing his second year in the program, attended a Seagate tour last November. “It was so impressive,” Keller said. “I learned many things that I would not have otherwise known about the industry and the company. It was interesting from beginning to end.”

Photo caption: Instructor Brad Thorpe (center) helps Shakopee High School students learn about electrical circuits as part of the schools pre-engineering program, supported by Seagate, Toro and ADC.

About Seagate
Seagate is the worldwide leader in the design, manufacture and marketing of hard disc drives, providing products for a wide-range of applications, including Enterprise, Desktop, Mobile Computing, Consumer Electronics and Branded Solutions. Seagate’s business model leverages technology leadership and world-class manufacturing to deliver industry-leading innovation and quality to its global customers, with the goal of being the low cost producer in all markets in which it participates. The company is committed to providing award-winning products, customer support and reliability to meet the world’s growing demand for information storage. Seagate can be found around the globe and at www.seagate.com.

Seagate, Seagate Technology and the Wave logo are U.S. registered trademarks of Seagate Technology LLC.