Students interested in STEM careers can get a head start through a Wake County Public School System collaboration offered only at Knightdale and East Wake high schools.
The Students Discover Academy is for rising ninth-graders at the two schools and combines a summer program with mentoring and visits to Wake County’s colleges and universities during the school year.
“It gives the students a college experience early on in their high school career,” said Laura Albrecht, senior administrator and grant coordinator for magnet and curriculum enhancement programs at Knightdale High School of Collaborative Design and East Wake High School.
Albrecht is coordinating the program, which is funded through a National Science Foundation grant to partners WCPSS, the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, the Kenan Fellows Program, N.C. State University and and The Science House.
There are 43 ninth-graders learning about science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers at the two high schools this year, the inaugural year of the program. Next school year there will space for 70.
Applications were mailed to all current eighth-graders slated to attend Knightdale or East Wake high schools, Albrecht said. Interested students can also get information from their middle school counselors or at www.studentsdiscover.org /academy.
The deadline to apply is April 22.
The school system wanted to expand STEM opportunities at schools in eastern Wake County, Albrecht said.
The program begins with a three-week summer session teaching science through hands-on classroom work. Students meet from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, July 12-29.
During the school year, the participants make Saturday visits to six Wake college and university campuses and meet with admissions officers and students. Also during the year, the students get monthly visits from a mentor who works in a STEM career.
“When you say engineering, it’s a big field,” said mentor Johnny Wood, a mechanical engineer and senior associate with Dewberry Engineers in Raleigh. “You can go into chemical engineering. You can go into mechanical engineering. You can go into manufacturing engineering. You can go into industrial engineering. Engineering is a broad field and this helps them narrow it down to what interests them.”
Wood has been working with ninth-grader Chris Yanez this school year to help him understand engineering and guide him on his career path. In addition to showing the student what it’s like to work in engineering, Wood also helps him make course selections in high school that will help him on his path to and through college.
“I know I want to do something in STEM, but I’m not sure which field,” said Yanez, who said his first choice for college is N.C. State. He wants to go somewhere close to home to keep down costs.
Yanez is interested in pursuing a career in technical, computer, mechanical or structural engineering. “I would like to be able to say, ‘I contributed to this project,’ or ‘I made this.’ That would be pretty cool,” he said.
His mentor completed a two-year degree at Wake Technical Community College, but Wood is urging Yanez to apply to get a bachelor’s degree at least because it gives students much more depth in math that they will need for the Professional Engineer exam.
Yanez’s formal time in the program ends at the end of the school year, but Wood said he will still be just a phone call away.
“I got a lot more than I thought I would get,” Yanez said. “I got advice from an experienced engineer, and I got to do these science experiments that I didn’t know would be so easy to do.”
Matt Goad: 919-829-4826