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Q&A with Doug Ward

Imagine being a high school student, but instead of the traditional math or science courses, you’re acquiring skills such as building solar panels, installing wind powered systems and designing electric cars to race at Michigan International Speedway. These tasks (and more) are a reality for students in the Mecosta-Osceola Career Center Innovative Engineering program.
InspirED Michigan chatted with Doug Ward, the Mecosta-Osceola Career Center Innovative Engineering (IE) instructor, to see what it takes to teach the latest in engineering to future professionals.
Tell us a little about yourself and how you became involved with the program.
Ward: I was an engineer for 14 years, working as a program engineer and plastic manager, primarily in the automotive industry. I was asked to join the career center advisory committee board, which consists of industry professionals and then was asked to be a course instructor.
The class focuses on eight disciplines: alternative energies, robotics, machining, plastics, electronics, fluid power, quality control and design. It is primarily a hands-on course, with only one-third of the time spent in the classroom and the remainder engaging in the lab.
How did the class come to be?
Ward: There was a need in the local area for the engineering industry and there were no shop classes offered at the district high schools.
Innovative Engineering (IE) is offered to juniors and seniors within the school district, participating high schools include Big Rapids High School, Crossroads Charter Academy, Chippewa Hills High School, Evart High School, Morley Stanwood High School and Reed City High School.
What does your role as instructor entail?
Ward: I create lesson plans and maintain the class equipment, but most importantly, I try to inspire the students through my own passion. At the Mecosta-Osceola Career Center, we like to call it, edutainment.
What are the students’ greatest take-a-ways?
Ward: Beyond the skills taught in the course, I teach students to be better people. I want students to find themselves and to be productive; we help them become problem solvers.
IE students maintain ambassadorship with area middle schools. This year, in honor of Veterans Day, the IE program held a lighting and voltage presentation for fifth, sixth and seventh graders. After learning about light, the students visited the career center to assemble 1,200 luminaries, which were lit in honor of veterans.
Why is maintaining a presence with the middle schools important?
Ward: We are planting the science, engineering and math seeds in young students.
The career center hosts a career day for eighth and 10th grade students to expose the types of engineering jobs available, detailing salary and post-secondary education options.
How does this class prepare students for the workforce?
Ward: The class is two hours and 15 minutes long and we maintain a strict attendance policy. Thirty percent of the class is based on work ethics, focusing on career readiness skills such as personal management, problem solving and teamwork.
The IE program also offers up to eight college credits for transfer to institutions such as Baker College, Ferris State University and Mid-Michigan Community College.
Can you tell us about the Square One Education Network's Innovative Vehicle Design (IVD) program and your class' involvement?
Ward: Square One, a great organization, provides our class with funding to participate in the competition, which takes place at Michigan International Speedway. My students compete with other schools for most durable and efficient car. The competition focuses on energy management, cars can only accelerate up to 35 miles per hour.
This year, the competition will be held at Belle Isle in Detroit. Students will have access to the race the track around the same time Detroit hosts its Indy-car race, bringing in sponsors for the high school event, such as Penske.
What do you envision for the future of the course?
Ward: We will continue to engage students by them teaching their own lessons to the class. If a student can teach it, they have mastered it. We will continue to keep the variety coming. We want to change with the industry.
Do you have any highlights or successes you would like to share?
Ward: Seventy percent of our students are attending college and the rest are entering the workforce. We hear so many success stories -- having these engineering skills at 18-years-old puts students in the position for success.
For more information:
Interested in the Mecosta-Osceola Career Center Innovative Engineering program, or other career preparation programs? Visit moisd.org.
Are you or your student doing something innovative and ground-breaking at school? Have an inspiring story of public education success you'd like to share with InspirED Michigan? Fill out our submission form.
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