Drafting and technology classes have a new name and focus

WILLMAR -- Drafting class has helped high school seniors Jon Mattison and Branden Jahnke understand why they needed to take all those math classes. Even with a computer-assisted drafting program, students in Mike Kroeker's Introduction to Enginee...

WILLMAR -- Drafting class has helped high school seniors Jon Mattison and Branden Jahnke understand why they needed to take all those math classes.

Even with a computer-assisted drafting program, students in Mike Kroeker's Introduction to Engineering Design class still need to use a lot of geometry and algebra.

The students were working at computers last week to draw a three-dimensional model of a "dovetail finger" to specifications. Though it requires a lot of work, "actually, it's kinda fun," said Mattison, 18, of Willmar.

Jahnke, 17, from Willmar, was working at the next computer. While Mattison hasn't settled on a college major yet, Jahnke said he is headed for the Alexandria Technical College engineering program.

He's appreciated the chance to take engineering courses at Willmar, he said. Both students praised the school's technology courses and said they enjoy participating in Tech Challenge activities in the spring.


Willmar Senior High has offered drafting and other technology courses for some time, but the classes this year have a new name and a new focus.

It's all part of the school district's new affiliation with Project Lead the Way, a national nonprofit organization aiming to increase the number of U.S. college students training in engineering and other technology fields.

Project Lead the Way, based in Clifton Park, N.Y., started 10 years ago with 12 New York high schools. It has expanded to include more than 2,000 middle schools and high schools around the country. About 175,000 students were enrolled in the curriculum in the past school year.

"We took our old drafting class and adapted it," Kroeker said recently. Much of the material is the same as before, but there's a new structure and some different software.

Lisa Hedlof, 17, a senior from Willmar, took the first part of the class last year, and she had to learn how to use the new software for the second half.

Hedlof is the only girl in the class she's taking this term, but the program has an increasing number of girls signing up for classes, Kroeker said. That is another goal of Project Lead the Way.

"I got into it because I kinda wanted to be an architect," Hedlof said.

The new class is "a little more structured," she said, and PowerPoint presentations from Project Lead the Way are helpful. Learning the new software can be frustrating, she said, but she likes other parts of the class, including using math, which she enjoys.


The changes took some getting used to, said Hector Saucedo, 17, a junior from Willmar, who also took the first drafting class in a previous year. Once he had adjusted, though, he liked the new software.

"After a while, you get so used to it you just want to keep using it," he said. He plans to be an architect, too.

New generation of engineers

Project Lead the Way's slogan is "Forging a New Generation of Engineers," but it's not just for people who want to be engineers, Kroeker said. The country has a growing need for engineering technicians, too.

"A good engineer can keep eight or 10 technical people working," Kroeker said.

The advantage of the program to students will be in presenting their high school experience to colleges, Kroeker said. They won't have to explain what skills they learned in their high school drafting classes. Rather, they can point to their Introduction to Engineering Design classes, and instructors will know what they learned and what software they can use.

Students could earn a maximum of six college credits in the program once it's fully implemented and certified.

Business, industry and colleges across the country support the effort to steer students toward more rigorous high school training and into technology programs after high school, Kroeker said.


The district received $51,500 from the Kern Family Foundation of Waukesha, Wis., to support training and equipment costs while the full program is implemented over the next few years.

Kroeker and Dave Chambers, both teachers in the industrial technology department, received training last summer in presenting the new classes.

"They called it a boot camp," Chambers said, and they learned that the name was accurate. The teachers spent 40 hours in a one-week course to go through an entire year's curriculum, he said, and they had homework nearly every night. They joked that it was good for them to be reminded of what it was like to be a student.

For students interested in technical careers, "we can show them, this is the path they take, and this is how they get there," Chambers said.

Junior High industrial technology teacher Jay Cole will receive training next summer in presenting the junior high component of the curriculum, called Gateway to Technology. Willmar Junior High is already offering some parts of the program to all eighth-graders this year, and the full program will be introduced next year.

At the Junior High, the course will feature a taste of more traditional industrial arts classes like wood shop along with technology training in a new computer lab, Cole said. Subjects covered will include digital circuitry, robotics and aeronautics.

"His program will be the feeder," Kroeker said.

Cole said his students are often anxious to get into the wood shop, and they'll get to keep doing that. It's important to keep teaching the hands-on skills of using tools and measuring, Kroeker said, because students will use that basic knowledge even when they're designing on a computer screen.

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