Quitman STEM program preps students for real-world careers

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Through challenging programs and rigorous training, Quitman High School engineering students are preparing for college, tackling hands-on projects and earning career certifications.

The Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) class is one of many outlets available to QHS students involved in Career and Technical Education (CTE).

David Cross, QHS STEM teacher, says it’s important for students to know what they enjoy and what they don’t so they’ll move in the right direction after high school.

“They’re (students) finding out what they like and that’s important in high school, just as important as any of their core studies. I think for a majority of us it’s just as important to get these kids in the right post-secondary education programs as it is for them to save a lot of money by finding what it is they don’t like,” Cross said.

His students are trained in a variety of subjects and taught the significance of IT certifications. They learn to use technology such as 3D printers, where they build innovative projects with real-world applications.

Beginning students take on projects to grasp basic principles of physics and sciences. Advanced students tackle more complex projects.

For instance, seniors have designed and are building a wind turbine utilizing 3D printed materials and metal welding. Cross hopes that in the future, a student-built wind turbine will produce electricity for parts of the school.

For Quitman senior Max Peddy, Cross’ classes helped him to see various career options.

“It wasn’t until I got into high school that I realized what kind of opportunities I had in STEM. Having one of my favorite teachers ever, Mr. Cross, I explored so many new careers that I otherwise would have never known about,” Peddy said. “I encourage everyone to explore any opportunity in STEM they get.”

One of those opportunities is the field of information technology. Students learn to configure a Microsoft Windows program and, through the process of earning a Microsoft certification, how to install the Windows 10 computer operating system. With their knowledge and a certification in hand, they have the potential to be hired in the IT field.

“It’s basically the foundation for their professional certifications. When they leave Quitman, they can actually get jobs,” Cross said.

High-level senior students recently competed at the IT Olympics at Texas State Technical College in Marshall. The contest consists of challenges in coding, business management and cyber security.

Seniors Justin Blalock, Mike Fry, Peddy, Ashton Goss and Vincent Ogg finished in the top 5 percent amongst the competitors.

“It’s a really extensive exercise,” Cross said of the IT Olympics. “There is an endpoint to it that you can achieve, but most don’t. I think all but maybe one of the (Quitman) guys got it. I feel like the seniors I have in IT, those guys are on-par,” Cross said. “They’re always studying coding, cyber security and programming so they know that stuff like the back of their hand.”

Cross noted that he’s worked with this year’s seniors since their eighth grade year.

“I keep those guys who want to be in technical industries, one: where they want to be, but two: I also need them,” Cross said. “Each one of the students I took to the IT Olympics can take one of those 3D printers, take them a part, put them back together and program them.”

Blalock shared his enthusiasm for learning engineering skills.

“Being in Mr. Cross’s STEM classes has allowed me to experience, utilize, and design all types of technology, ranging from 3D printing to software engineering and to develop applicable skills,” Blalock said.

Students in Cross’s class also are trained in computer-aided design (CAD) programs, such as SolidWorks. CAD utilizes computers for the creation, modification and optimization of a design to improve productivity and quality.

Cross also is considering a drone program in the future. But for now, the focus is on the computer and structural design side of engineering.

Quitman’s engineering students have the chance to pursue a multitude of careers outside of the typical STEM profession, according to Cross.

“There are a whole slew of them that really want technical careers that are outside the engineering field. They found that they want to be … radio techs or somebody that’s doing X-ray technology for the medical field,” he said. “Things like that might not necessarily directly tie into the engineering program, but I cater to those students. I kind of meet them where they’re at. If they’re successful when they leave here, I feel like we’ve done our job.”

He stressed the need to adapt to the changing career fields available to students.

“One of things that I like about Quitman is yes, we do put them in these strong track programs where they get a lot of rigor and hard work through those programs like our medical, engineering, agriculture programs,” Cross said. “But we don’t force them to make life decisions in ninth grade. It’s important to us that the more we support these guys in these chairs, the better off they’re going to be. We’re no longer pushing every kid to college. We’re trying to get them in the right trades, get them in the right schools, the right set of certifications that are going to make those students successful.”

Tools used by engineering students can work in other fields. Cross explained that agricultural students are using CAD and design software to build their equipment and projects as well.

CTE coordinator Sherrie Callahan commended Cross’ dedication to growing the STEM career opportunities at QHS.

“David Cross does an excellent job with our STEM students. He goes above and beyond in obtaining the training necessary to stay ahead of the curve as far as getting his students ready for life after they graduate high school,” she stated.

Last summer, he was one of 18 physics instructors to attend the two-week Mitchell Institute Physics Enhancement Program at Texas A&M University. The point of attending was to give him a sturdier foundation in college physics so he could better prepare kids for college physics. In the process, he met and worked beside professionals in the physics industry.

“It’s a rare opportunity as a physics teacher in a public school to get to meet people that are setting the standards for hard sciences like those guys are.”

This summer, Cross hopes to undergo similar training at the University of Texas in Austin called “Engineer Your World.” He sees the program as beneficial in preparing Quitman students for technical- intensive college programs.

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