WESTFORD -- Nashoba Valley Technical High School is engineering a new course for many of its students.
The school this year has opened an Engineering Academy, "a school within a school," as Academic and Testing Coordinator Gabriella White called it, in which students who choose to study engineering or electronics/robotics will be clustered into a wing of the building where they will also be taught a specialized curriculum of science, math and English.
The expectation is that the academy will provide an intensive, hands-on education in several aspects of engineering, and open the doors to engineering colleges.
"It's something that is somewhat unique to this area and will address the needs of the current economic climate," White said.
Engineering instructor Jeffrey Scheminger is excited about the academy and the opportunity to raise the bar for those interested in pursuing an engineering-related career.
"Students in the academy receive dedicated attention for both their technical and academic coursework," Scheminger said. "Embedded math and science instructors will reinforce the engineering learning while providing a high level of direct support. Upon graduation, students will be well prepared for the rigorous challenge of entering postsecondary education."
The move toward offering a more intensive engineering program actually began more than a decade ago, and it only takes one look at the statistics to be see why school officials have pursued the idea.
For instance, according to a report by the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee, the unemployment rate in STEM-related fields -- that's science, technology, engineering and mathematics -- has remained steady at 5.5 percent, as opposed to the national rate, which stood at 7.7 percent as of February 2013.
In 2011, the unemployment rate for computer and mathematical occupations was at 4.1 percent, about half the national rate. That same year, occupations related to the physical and social sciences, as well as architecture and engineering, had unemployment rates of 3.8 percent and 5.1 percent, respectively.
Wages also tend to be higher in STEM-related fields, according to the report, even among employees who don't have a bachelor's degree but who earn, on average, more than 30 percent more per hour than non-STEM workers with a similar level of education.
Numbers like that are why Nashoba Tech Superintendent Dr. Judith L. Klimkiewicz started pushing for an engineering program as soon as she was hired in 1996.
The engineering technology program was added a few years later.
It wasn't until December 2012, however, that the school was able to commit monetary resources to the academy. That month, Nashoba Tech was chosen as one of 31 Massachusetts educational facilities to receive grants from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, the goal of which is to increase education in the STEM areas.
Nashoba Tech received $96,665, which was used, in part, to purchase equipment for the academy.
In addition to civil and electrical engineering, which had already been part of the engineering technology curriculum, students in the Engineering Academy will soon be learning environmental, geophysical and biomedical engineering.
"Students will be eligible to receive college credits for several of the core engineering classes," Scheminger added. "In addition, an extensive number of colleges offer preferential admissions policies for students who complete this coursework."
He added that students will become well-versed in the software programs Autodesk Inventor and Revit Architecture, the latter of which he said about 90 percent of construction firms use.
Scheminger said the academy will follow a nationally recognized curriculum called Project Lead the Way.
According to White, freshmen will still go through the exploratory process, spending time in each of Nashoba Tech's 18 technical programs before choosing one halfway through freshman year.
If a student elects to continue in engineering rechnology or electronics/robotics, he or she will become part of the Engineering Academy.
"Like universities," Scheminger said, "our students will take a common set of courses in the first two years at the academy. In the third and fourth years, they will have the opportunity to study and develop projects in specialized fields that include robotics, biomedical engineering, aerospace engineering, civil engineering, computer integrated manufacturing and digital electronics."
And when they graduate, they will be prepared to step into college or into a work world in great need of engineers.
Exactly as Nashoba Tech engineered it.