Braxton Citizens' News, Schools

BCHS instructor speaks at ARC POWER workshop

By Shirley Shuman

Planners for a recent ARC POWER Grant Planning Workshop held at Fairmont State University invited Dr. Ethan Backus to speak about  the high school’s pre-engineering program. Backus explained that those organizing the workshop are interested in improving and retaining the STEM workforce and want to keep people in West Virginia. The group attending the workshop included faculty members from both Fairmont State and Glenville State universities as well as local business people and representatives from state and local governments.

The invitation for Backus to speak followed his and Braxton County Schools Superintendent Dr. Donna Burge-Tetrick’s attendance at an earlier round-table discussion at GSU presented by the same group. At that meeting, Burge-Tetrick and Backus discussed the success of Braxton’s pre-engineering program.

At the Fairmont workshop, Backus discussed Project Lead the Way, the organization that accredits the BCHS program. “Their curriculum has been shown to reduce the income gap in testing and education,” Backus noted. The pre-engineering instructor also discussed the requirements for certification—80 hours of training— to teach each course. Currently the program offers four courses taught by Backus and instructor Shawn Crow, who initiated the program at Braxton. For the 2024-25 school year, these two will offer six courses.

The first year for pre-engineering at the high school in 2020, the class Introduction to Engineering Design, taught by Crow, included eight students. Principles of Engineering was added the next year, and the number of students increased to 16. In 2022-23, Backus taught Civil Engineering and Environmental Engineering, now Principles of Engineering. Currently 48 students are involved in the program. Instructor Crow, referring back to the ARC POWER group, noted, “The ARC POWER grant will directly benefit our students as it will help get more students into the STEM fields that industry is needing, thus providing them with stable economic futures. I applaud Dr. Backus’s efforts to help achieve this opportunity for BCHS students.”

Next year the program will add Engineering Design and Development, a class in which students will conduct research for a project related to engineering and at the end of the year prepare a presentation which they will give to a group of professional engineers. Backus will teach that class as well as Aerospace Engineering, another new class. Enrollment by then is projected to be 60-70 students.

BCHS Principal Lori Stover-Williams is pleased with the growth of this program. “The pre-engineering program is the fastest growing pathway at BCHS,” she said. “With the embedded math and science within the curriculum of the program, our students are college and career ready more than ever before.”

Backus discussed several ways in which those involved are increasing the number of students. “We’re getting students out of the classroom and on field trips where they can see engineers in action and realize that’s not beyond their reach,” he said. He named Weyerhaeuser, Rock Forge Bridge Construction, Lincoln Electric in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Air Guard Base in Charleston.

Encouraging community involvement and building relationships with local engineering firms and with colleges has proved advantageous, too,

In addition, representatives are going to the middle school to talk to those students. “We also have allowed them to look over our engineering lab and even to do simple engineering tasks,” Backus said. “We’ve done the same with elementary students and have also spoken to freshmen who may not have signed up. We bring them to our classes from the freshman seminar ‘Eagle Experience,’”

Other than the educational value they receive, students who take the pre-engineering classes may receive a math or science credit and a big advantage is that they can receive college credit,  Another positive point which Backus stressed is that some of Braxton’s pre-engineering students currently enrolled in Fairmont State’s engineering program are doing well.