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January 15, 2013

Earthquake study shakes up class at Laurens classroom

By Mark Boshnack
The Daily Star

---- — There was a whole lot of shaking going on Monday at Laurens Central School in the name of learning.

Students in the Laurens engineering program were testing their wooden towers on a shake table, to simulate earthquakes. That was part of the student project in the civil and mechanical engineering unit that is coming to a close.

Three wooden structures built by students had a variety of success before the class was over Monday. Testing will continue today.

The course is new this year, Laurens Superintendent Romona Wenck said. The program seeks to address the issue of declining graduates from college science, technology, engineering and math classes. It seeks to attract students at Laurens and other area schools into those disciplines by giving them an opportunity to take accelerated math and science classes and apply their knowledge to engineering-related problems, according to a course outline. Besides the technology modules, students take college-level classes in physics, calculus, history and English.

“We’ve made a commitment as a school district to provide advanced courses,” Wenck said. Some funding was provided by the Otsego County Industrial Development Agency, which has been supportive of programs that promote STEM education, she said.

With six students in the program, and high school science teacher Alton Dunn as the lead instructor, “we would love to have more, but it’s a good start,” she said. It’s similar to a course being offered at ONC BOCES, but since Laurens had a teacher who could provide it in the district, it made more economic sense to provide it locally.

The students are all seniors and all but one is from Laurens. Elijah Coley is a student from the Milford Central School District.

The majority of instruction takes place at the school classroom, which includes a computer lab. Students also participated in a variety of field trips, including SUNY Albany College of NanoScale Science & Engineering in October and Frontier Communications in Norwich in November. This gives them a chance to see a variety of real-life engineering applications, Dunn said. Guest speakers and participation in college-level research are also on the curriculum.

Dunn said that it is important to have hands-on projects, like building wooden towers in each unit.

“The best way to get students interested in science, is to have them do science,” Dunn said.

In the electrical engineering and information technology unit starting in January and ending in March students will build robots. Projects were also part of the curriculum for the engineering careers unit that started the year, and will be in the renewable energy unit that ends the year.

“The goal is to have high school students prepared for college and exposed to different areas of interest,” he said.

The program’s students said the course was achieving its purpose. One of these was senior Ryan Crean, who said he was already interested in engineering when he enrolled. He will be attending Renssellaer Polytechnic Institute in the fall.

He said he was glad the program was available because it’s making him better prepared for college. It has made his senior year more challenging than it otherwise might have been, he said.

Jerry Murello said his studies have showed him how important engineering is to so many aspects of society. He is enlisted in the Marine Corps as an aviation mechanic, but he would like to pursue his interests in civil and mechanical engineering at some point in the future.

Coley said he will attend RPI in the fall. The course has helped narrow down his options by giving him the opportunity to experience many different possibilities, he said, which isn’t always possible in a small school.

Other students in the class are Ian Rogers, Caleb Barney and Josiah Wenck.

“We will take what we learned this year and improve it,” Dunn said. “I’m very happy with the way it’s going and the opportunities it provides.” He said he hoped in the future this would include internships and shadowing.