class act Best practices in action

class act
Best practices in action
CSBA's Golden Bell Awards Winner logo

class act
Best practices in action

CSBA's Golden Bell Awards Winner logo
Ruben S. Ayala High School CTE Engineering Academy Pathway

ince 2015, Ayala CTE Engineering Academy, part of the Chino Valley Unified School District and Baldy View Regional Occupational Program, has grown from one class with 35 students to a four-year Project Lead the Way Engineering Pathway with approximately 190 students per year and 30 career technical education completers each year.

The Golden Bell-winning, project-based STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] program has increased female participation in the engineering pathway by 50 percent. Since 2018, 89 percent of all eligible students have received college credit. In the fall of 2022, 96 percent of the program’s seniors will be attending college, with the remainder entering trade schools.

“I feel our engineering and architecture pathway as structured provides students several years to create an essential roadmap toward a field of interest,” said Michael S. Collins, Baldy View ROP and Ayala High School engineering and design instructor. “We often discuss how there is no one size fits all — it is about giving them options.”

Private and public sector partnerships are essential for a successful CTE pathway, and each year six to eight industry professionals give presentations to students, bringing career possibilities to life. The speakers share their journey of how they decided on a career, their postsecondary education, and their occupation.

In order to inform the pathways and make sure they are on the right track, Collins hosts two occupational advisory committee meetings per year with at least three industry professionals. They review the curriculum course competencies, student projects and program details and provide essential feedback and guidance to improve the program. Many on the advisory board become guest speakers and mentors to the students as well.

The focus on bringing more female students into the pathway is not coincidental, as the number of women employed in engineering in the U.S. has remained virtually the same for the last decade, representing about 15 percent of the engineering workforce, according to a 2021 report from the U.S. Census Bureau. At least half of the guest speakers are female, including a recent visit from Luz Virgen, reliability engineering manager for Virgin Galactic. Encouraged in high school to pursue a career in engineering by famed teacher Jaime Escalante, Virgen hopes to continue inspiring the next generation of female engineers.

“One cannot underestimate the profound impact strong female voices like this have on transforming our younger generation’s perspective,” said Collins.

Female engineering student hard at work

Providing support to students as they pursue postsecondary options is another key pillar of the program. The Engineering Academy has a designated counselor that collaborates with students and instructors to assist with college and financial aid applications. “We also have an ongoing relationship with our local Chamber of Commerce to provide assistance with resume building, mock interviews, externships and job shadowing opportunities with local businesses,” said Collins. “Every year we release a multi-question survey to our students to share their interest and availability so that the chamber can match our students with potential business partners for employment.”

Another support comes in the form of the ACE Mentorship after-school program in which industry professionals from architecture, construction and engineering firms serve as mentors for students on a yearlong, hands on project. The project culminates with a banquet where students present their work to a large audience and are presented with any awards they have earned for their accomplishments, such as scholarships, externships and even waived tuition in some cases. The scholarships are renewed for every year that the student continues to be enrolled in a STEM field.

Victories are celebrated campuswide, with all students’ college acceptances on the white board in front of the class based on school and major. “This creates an additional sense of shared interest,” Collins said. “All the underclassmen get the benefit of witnessing this take place over several years and this begins to create a culture of excellence.”

— Kimberly Sellery