Business Perspectives

Wichita business, educators could learn from OKC academy

I recently visited one of the most outstanding high schools in our area and it left a profound impression on me.

Manufacturing engineers, industry managers and other company leaders do not get to see K-12 education in action, but I did. It’s a program that Wichita business and educators could greatly benefit from.

Francis Tuttle Academy in Oklahoma City provides pre-engineering courses for students who study at their local high school for half a day and then attend Francis Tuttle’s rigorous math, science and engineering related classes. It gives them the academics for college and an understanding of engineering before they enter college.

The Society of Manufacturing Engineers’ Education Foundation recently designated this school as one of its PRIME (Partnership Response in Manufacturing Education) schools because of its excellence. Students learn through project-based assignments (engineering problems) which include diagnostics, design, analysis, fabrication and testing. It is an unusual place because every one of the students when called upon could speak convincingly of what they were doing and why they enjoyed it.

They spoke like seasoned professional speakers – sophomores, juniors and seniors in high school with great speaking skills.

I saw a degreed engineer teaching some of these high school classes. I saw excitement, challenge, dedication and an atmosphere free from disruptions. I saw engineering tools (computing programs) used in the classroom. I saw students working individually as well as together, students learning electronic and automation skills and then applying them to extracurricular programs in robotic aircraft and other competitions.

But Francis Tuttle Tech Center is more than engineering. It is a true technical center. From the lunchroom windows you see both young and adult students practicing hands-on skills in machining, welding, equipment maintenance and other forms of automation. This part of the center provides the training for some of the 300,000 jobs that we cannot find workers for – the people who actually make things, run the equipment and solve daily problems – in other words, skilled workers.

This part of the program employs modern teaching tools – you read the assignment on the computer either at school or at home. You read the approaches to solving such issues on the computer and you get the detailed work instructions via the computer. When you get to the lab, you perform the operation or task for that lesson. If it did not work, you did not fail. You get to do it again, and again if necessary, until you show you have mastered the task. If it takes you longer, that is OK. The point is this is a place to learn and to certify that you have learned.

One young man ran out of money before he finished his two years in the instrument controls program, so he applied to scoop ice cream at a Braum’s ice cream facility at $7 an hour. When he showed up the first day and the company found he had Francis Tuttle training, they changed his job to a $17-an-hour position as a maintenance/instrumentation technologist.

Companies are standing in line to get students like him as interns before they graduate.

Francis Tuttle cannot train all the skilled technicians we need, nor provide the many needed students entering college engineering programs. But it is making a difference in local industry, in the lives of its students.

Other communities can duplicate the results, but it takes a clear focus on what is to be achieved, high standards, high expectations and teachers who have a real understanding of the technology and performance needed by companies.

Visit your local technical high school or education center; investigate the what, how and why of their venue, then visit one of these PRIME programs. If it does not compare, let’s work together to make a difference in the lives of so many people by providing venues that allow students to excel, while meeting the needs of local companies. By joining our outstanding educators, with local industry support we can regain the excellence we need for our economy as well as provide rewarding careers for our students.