Indiana High School Partners with MIT, NSWC Crane to Advance Math and Science Programs

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Pike Central High School uses universities, including Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard and Purdue, and Department of Defense (DoD) organizations like Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division (NSWC Crane) as valuable resources to advance its Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programs.

Our partnership with NSWC Crane has clearly been a fantastic relationship

Instead of rushing home after school, a talented group of students from Pike Central High School, located in small-town Petersburg, Ind., spends its after-school hours designing and prototyping portable disaster relief shelters, which are being considered for humanitarian missions by the Red Cross Foundation.

For a school whose enrollment doesn't reach 600 students, more than 20 percent of the students are enrolled in the Project Lead the Way (PLTW) engineering program. Pike Central High School is a leading model for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programs in the country. More than 50 of its students participate in STEM-related projects to gain hands-on, real-world experience with technical projects. Pike Central uses universities, including Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard and Purdue, and Department of Defense (DoD) organizations like Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division (NSWC Crane) as valuable resources to advance from regional activities to national programs.

"Our partnership with NSWC Crane has clearly been a fantastic relationship," said Ray Niehaus, Project Lead the Way facilitator. "I wish every school had an organization like NSWC Crane, a leading naval installation, as a resource to help prepare students for the workforce."

This past October, Pike Central High School was selected as one of 14 Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams -- a program that grants selected high schools up to $10,000 to invent technological solutions to real-world problems. More than 1,200 schools applied for the grant, and a judging panel composed of educators, researchers, alumni and staff from MIT; industry experts; and past Lemelson-MIT Award winners selected Pike Central High School as one of the grantees. It is the first Indiana school to be picked for the program.

The Pike Central High School InvenTeam is building a lightweight disaster relief shelter that is both inexpensive and easy to assemble and disassemble. Made from plastic corrugated sheets and plastic extrusions, the shelter also has a water filtration system, and the team is currently working to add an alternative energy source to supply light to the structure.

Scott Willis, an electrical engineer at NSWC Crane, has worked with Pike Central High School students since the school's STEM program inception. For more than seven years, he has spent countless hours mentoring youth in approximately four dozen projects spanning from robotics construction to alternative energy generation. He also facilitated material donations from NSWC Crane and other organizations to the high school.

"The enjoyment the kids feel from participating is what motivates me to mentor year after year," said Willis. "I'm continually impressed with the ideas they generate and the dedication they exhibit on the projects."

The primary goal of STEM initiatives is to excite and motivate students in technological careers -- and it's working at Pike County High School. Last year, 21 out of 22 graduated seniors continued to a two- or four-year university, and 15 are pursuing math and science career fields. Also encouraging are the statistics for the program's female participation: nearly half of the students in the program are women.

Besides building disaster relief shelters, students also work on projects including low-altitude rocket launches and the integration of hybrid fuel technology for super mileage cars and a HMMWV.

"Beyond just having our students pursue technical fields, we want our students to lead their fields of study at colleges across the county," said Niehaus. "This program allows them to do just that."

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Brian Bailey
NSWC Crane
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