Galt High School sophomore D.J. Finkes and junior Sterling Shells, both 16, sit huddled over a circuit board trying to get a light to blink at the right time.
To the average person, this painstakingly slow task might seem boring, but the boys couldn't be more enthralled. So enthralled, in fact, that they don't immediately leave when the bell rings.
D.J. and Sterling are like most Galt High engineering students, engaged and challenged. And that's just what teacher Debra Crane wants - students who she hopes will feed the United States' dwindling pool of engineers and keep up with international talent.
Crane helped develop Galt High's program in 2000. Back then only 75 students enrolled. Today, Crane and Teacher Steve Box educate 175 students.
Crane, who holds a degree in architecture, heard about a group called Project Lead the Way at a teacher consortium in the early days of her 10-year career at Galt High.
Project Lead the Way is a nonprofit group based in New York that encourages students to pursue science and engineering.
At the time, a drafting teacher was lobbying for a computer lab at the school, and the school needed the reassurance that it was going to be used for more than making floor plans.
Project Lead the Way was just the right fit.
Crane's strives to give students a background in engineering, something she says is invaluable for students looking to major in the field in college.
Since its inception, Galt High has become a model for many other high schools looking to replicate its program. Crane constantly gets calls from educators from Santa Barbara to Petaluma asking if they can come down and visit.
What's happening, she said, is that once students get into the big name engineering schools they aren't able to compete with international students, whose secondary schools provide a better background in engineering.
As a result, the United States is falling behind in producing quality engineers, and companies are starting to looking internationally for good engineering talent.
"It's one of the job sectors that truly is going to be lacking," Crane said.
Crane said students with one or more years of engineering in high school are more likely to graduate from a university with a good engineering program.
Sterling said he's not quite sure if he'll major in engineering yet.
"I'm taking this class to see if I want to pursue something in engineering," he said.
He and his father take apart computers, tinker with hard drives and take apart cars, things that he's always loved.
What he likes about engineering is that there's no one way to solve a problem.
"Some people do it one way, and then you can flip it all around and do it another way," Sterling said.
He said he usually does it the easy way. His partner, D.J, usually takes the harder route.
Box said there's a lot of students in Sterling's position - not knowing whether or not they want to stay in engineering - and that's OK.
The program still teaches them the brainstorming and critical-thinking skills that are useful in any field.
"Even the students that may not go on, they've learned a lot," Box said.
- Introduction to Engineering
- Digital Electronics
- Computer-Integrated Manufacturing
- Civil Engineering and Architecture
- 19 percent female
- 81 percent male
- 3 percent special education
- Ethnicity demographics match those of Galt High, which
White - 48 percent
Hispanic - 40 percent
Black - 2 percent
Filipino - 1 percent
American Indian or Alaskan Native - 1 percent
Source: Galt High School
Project Lead the Way at a glance
Based in New York, Project Lead the Way became a non-profit organization in 1997 to encourage a variety of students to get interested and do well in science and engineering.
Since then, Project Lead the Way has founded programs in 49 states and the nation's capital.
Some of Project Lead the Way's goals are:
- Get students interested enough in engineering that they pursue
the subject in college.
- Provide students with the background knowledge they'll need to
be successful in college engineering programs.
- Help produce quality American engineers and fill a hole in the
United States' job market.
Total schools with Project Lead the Way programs: 2,000
Total students enrolled in Project Lead the Way classes: 175,000
Source: Project Lead the Way's Web site
- The wire walkers - Using only the ingredients that make up the
inside of VCRs and a small battery, students assemble several
contraptions that run across a wire, that stretches the length of
Students configure their wire walkers so that when it reaches the end of the wire, it turns around and walks the opposite way.
Debra Crane, left, helps junior Zach Sherrill during class Wednesday at Galt High School. (Brian Feulner/News-Sentinel)
- The bomb detonator - Using a mousetrap as the "bomb," students program an electronic arm to pick up a foam block from one station and drop it onto the mouse trap at another station. The foam block touches the mousetrap's sensor causing it to spring closed and the "bomb" is detonated.
- Artist studio design - Students from Galt High's Civil
Engineering and Architecture class design plans for artists'
Students must design the studio to accommodate a particular type of artist - painter, sculptor, etc. - and devise living quarters for the artist as well.
Source: Galt High School
What students say
"It's definitely introduced me into different aspects of engineering."
- Senior Blake Reller, 17, on the engineering program. Blake will attend Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo in the fall.
"We all have so many interests in common. It's not that weird"
- Senior Skye Schahfer, 17, on being one of the few female students in the engineering program. Skye will attend Consumnes River College in the fall and hopes to transfer to California State University, Humboldt, where she plans on majoring in environmental engineering.
"I just signed up for it … and I've taken it all four years"
- Senior David Smith, 17, on how he got into the program. Smith will study city and regional planning in the fall at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.