By Sarah Cottrell
What do design, problem-solving and robots have in common? Well, if you’re a high school student in Bangor, you would say engineering! Students at John Bapst High School have been learning about the fascinating world of engineering through a competitive and impressive Engineering and Technology program that aims to give kids the opportunity to test the engineering waters to see if they want a future as an engineer.
“Most kids leaving his course sequence are either energized about engineering and ready to embark on a lifelong journey in that field, or, in smaller numbers, they have determined that it is definitely not for them,” said Michael Murphy, who has taught all of the Engineering and Technology courses at John Bapst.
The engineering field is quite broad and can include so many exciting avenues since, at its core, engineering is about creating designs from robots to bridges to a simple staircase and then testing the integrity of that design to make sure it solves the problem intended.
“Our entire program is based on the idea of iterative design and creative problem-solving. Engineering is really at the core of what we do,” Murphy said. “With regard to problems kids are solving here, I am more focused on building in them the foundations that they need to look at problems in a new and creative way, and the tools that will allow them to identify novel solutions.”
Over the past two decades, there has been a cultural push toward STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) learning, particularly for female students. Parents might be familiar with the massive variety of STEM baby and children’s books and toys. Now schools like John Bapst see more girls looking to enter STEM fields, making their engineering courses especially attractive.
“The inclusion of young women in STEM here has been a major focus for the Engineering and Technology Department. For over a decade, we have been fighting the common societal stigma that seems to be attached to STEM when it comes to girls or women choosing that as a focus,” Murphy explains. “We intentionally choose activities and projects that are more neutral when it comes to traditional gender expectations and inclinations.”
After more than a decade of effort to bring more girls into the engineering classes, Murphy says he and his colleagues are finally seeing real results.
“Over half of our competition robotics program is made up of girls,” said Murphy. “Two of our four teams are entirely made up of girls, including our top varsity team, which is amongst the best in the state this year.”
The students in the engineering program are working hard to make the school proud and to spread their knowledge and excitement to younger students around the state. The John Bapst Robotic Team has become a formidable contender in the state, national and international engineering competitions in the last decade. But incredibly, the varsity robotics team has taken their success and is using it to get more kids interested in STEM learning by reaching out to local middle schools and mentoring younger students who are curious to learn more. With all of this valuable learning and mentoring, Murphy says that his students are well-prepared to join a two- or four-year college level program when they finish at John Bapst.
But before anyone thinks that engineering might be boring if not for robotics, Murphy shared a couple of exciting stories about some of his students.
“Just this past year, I heard from a former student that is at Georgia Tech and was asked to brief the FBI regarding a novel virus that took down the Colonial Pipeline because he had been central in deciphering the code that was used in that attack,” Murphy shared. “He has been offered professional positions already in top Cyber Security firms once he graduates.”
In another example, a student designed and built his own 3-D printer for under $500 and entered it in the Maine State Science Fair, where an industry expert noticed the high-quality work. That professional handed the student his card and said to look him up if he needed any advice or a job when he finally finished school.
Teachers like Michael Murphy and his colleagues at John Bapst High School are helping our kids reshape the world through the exciting use of math, science, engineering and technology. And nothing could be more extraordinary for a kid than that.
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