October 18, 2021

Engineering a future

Homer High School students present engineering projects

Michael McCleary/contributing photographer

Nate Petrella, left and Sean Powers discuss their high-efficiency windshield defroster Wednesday during a presentation of engineering projects at Homer High School. The event was the culmination of an engineering curriculum the district adopted.

Homer Central High School student Sean Powers leaned into the microphone Wednesday evening and interjected as his partner, Nate Petrella, tried to explain what had gone wrong.

Their high-efficiency windshield defroster wasn’t very efficient at all. They knew what they could do to fix it, but standing at the podium in front of a crowd of people who came to see their presentation along with three other groups, they didn’t have any definite answers.

“This is why they have engineers do this and not us,” Powers quipped. The crowd laughed. There would always be time for more experimenting.

Powers and Petrella were two of the Homer High School students presenting their year-long project in their engineering design and development course.

The course, in its third year, is a “process course,” said Michael DiMattei, teacher of the nine-student engineering design and development course.

While the products — a faster windshield defroster, a safer option for towing boats, an improved ice tray and a heated glove for military members — were not perfect, students learned to understand many of the things engineers developing a product must do. They got advice from professional engineers and examined the markets for their products.

They had to solve problems, weigh costs and look for resources outside the classroom.

Five years ago, Homer Central High School looked to bring a Career Technical Education program, a series of electives aimed at preparing students for future careers, to the school. In order to get the program, they had to create college-level courses. They partnered with the Rochester Institute of Technology and offered classes curated by Project Lead the Way, a nonprofit that develops science, technology, engineering and math curricula.

Prior to the new programming, the school only offered design, drawing and production. Introduction to engineering and design is Project Lead the Way’s version of that first class. From there, students advance to principles of engineering and either computer-integrated manufacturing or civil engineering and architecture.

“We thought this was the best pathway to get the widest breadth to get our kids college and career ready,” DiMattei said.

In the class, students conducted surveys to identify problems to inspire their concepts, searched through patents, determined measures to reduce costs and weighed their products against competitors.

They bounced ideas around: Ethan Lunas and Sam Moheimani suggested their product could relate to problems like ineffective toasters, diluted coffee and waking up in the morning before they landed on their improved ice tray, named Freeze Frame.

Students used resources inside the school like 3-D printers, and outside the school like professional help. Five of the nine students look to pursue an engineering-related major in college.

Many students said they could have improved their product if they had more time.

The engineering program started with about 50 students in the introduction class, DiMattei said, but dwindled to nine in the fourth year. In the future, he said hopes to get more people involved, but it’s a “process.”

“I really believe the students that take this course want to be here, they want to do good work,” DiMattei said. “I enjoy watching that process, I enjoy watching that growth.”