Story and photos by Jo Mathis/AAPS District News
When he was a freshman three years ago, Sebastian Balde thought he didn’t want to go on to college.
Now the Skyline High School senior can’t wait to prepare for a career as a bio-medical engineer.
“And it’s because I went to this high school, that I believe I’ll have a head start in college,” said Balde.
The future engineer was on hand Tuesday night for the dedication of the lab he believes has given him and other Skyline student a big boost.
In May, IMRA America, Inc. of Ann Arbor announced a $100,000 gift to the Ann Arbor Public Schools Educational Foundation in support of high school technology education. The funds have enhanced the computer and engineering lab for Skyline High School’s Design, Technology, and Environmental Planning Magnet Program, which is a model for other labs throughout the district.
The enhanced lab means more opportunities for students, said Tom Pachera, Skyline’s lead teacher for the Design Technology & Environmental Planning Magnet.
“The more students we can expose to engineering and design and computer science, the better,” said Pachera. “I think it’ll help them with their future plans, their future careers, and future education. So I’m just so happy that IMRA sponsored what they were able to sponsor, and I hope other businesses in the community can do the same for other labs in the school district.”
The gift has allowed the purchase of science and software engineering curriculum as well as professional development so that teachers can instruct new science courses.
Pachera said a seven-year-old prototyping lab such as Skyline’s is already a bit outdated.
“So we were able to update our older equipment and add new equipment,” he said, noting the purchase of computers, a rapid proto-typing machine, laser engraver, and new software.
Pachera noted that because of the high tech equipment in the lab, Skyline students will now be able to service the rest of the district, so younger students from A2 STEAM at Northside, for instance, will be able to send their designs to the lab for proto-typing, and laser and engraving. That in turn will create a mentoring relationship, he said.
IMRA electronics engineer Brad Zieg was impressed not only with all the state-of-the-art tools in the lab, but its upfront, glassed-in location adjacent to the Skyline cafeteria.
“What I’ve found is that the room with the tools and the shop class is usually in the back by the alley,” he said. “This is very cool, because it’s right front and center, with full glass windows so everybody can see what’s happening here.”
Zieg believes it’s important that the country is industrious, and that offering such labs to high school students is one of the best things that can be done for them and the U.S. economy.
“Everybody wants to pretend that our GNP will be just fine without manufacturing, but it won’t,” he said. “And this is where you learn all the skills to put together manufacturing. So I think it’s really important that we’re teaching these very fundamental skills in high school.”
Junior Caden Bielawa has nothing but praise for the program.
“To be completely honest, this place is a bit of a miracle for me, because as a kid, I always imagined that I would grow up and be this great inventor,” he said. “I have pictures of myself inventing things from sketches I did as a kid. It’s just great to be working on developing my skills in this up-and-coming field of engineering and programming and such.”
Educational Foundation’s Executive Director Linh Song said the DTEP Lab dedication is a wonderful start towards the foundation’s efforts to establish a permanent technology fund for future plans, including funding STEAM curriculum in all AAPS middle schools for fall 2015.
“Dedicating DTEP’s Lab is a wonderful example of how corporate and educational partnerships can meet mutual needs, and more importantly, meet the needs of our nearly 17,000 students,” she said.
Superintendent Jeanice Swift said the lab is a showcase for what can be done in all AAPS high schools, and in the meantime, encourages cross-school collaborations to make the most out of the creative and innovative space.
“The Ann Arbor Public Schools Educational Foundation has once again brought businesses and education together to create immediate and direct impacts to student learning,” she said.
IMRA is a world leader in the research, development, manufacturing, and application of ultrafast fiber lasers and new nano materials.
IMRA President Takashi Omitsu said the decision to support the Ann Arbor Public School’s science and technology efforts reflects the company’s mission.
“Our company sees incredible value in supporting the needs of our schools so that the children in our community can cultivate their interest in the sciences early on and throughout their K-12 education,” he said.
IMRA’s Kasuo Ishikawa wishes he could go back in time to his high school days in Japan – as long as it included a room anything like Skyline High School’s new IMRA DTEP lab.
“Compared to us, this is a completely different environment,” said Ishikawa, whose son, Kazhito, graduated from Skyline two years ago. “I think students are here at a very lucky time.”