With a mission to empower young people (including those identified as disadvantaged) with the academic, technical and professional skills required by “new collar” jobs, the first P-TECH school launched in Brooklyn, NY in September 2011. Short for Pathways in Technology Early College High, the P-TECH school format combines high school and college coursework taken simultaneously with engagement from one or more business partners. The businesses commit to advising the academic partners on curriculum, as well as to providing both mentors and internships for students.
The program extends a typical four-year high school program to six years, during which time students complete the requirements for high school graduation while also earning an industry-recognized, two-year, post-secondary associate degree. P-TECH programs and degrees target entry-level jobs in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields from which students can earn a middle-class salary. The program is completely free to students and—since its 2011 inception—has been replicated by more than 120 schools worldwide.
As covered in a recent article in MHI Solutions magazine, starting this September one of the newest P-TECH programs will be at STEM School Highlands Ranch, in a south Denver, CO, suburb. The K-12 school is partnering with nearby Arapahoe Community College (ACC) to create a P-TECH program focused on mechatronics—a new endeavor for both the high school and the community college.
“For STEM School Highlands Ranch, we saw embarking on a P-TECH program here as an opportunity to help students be prepared for industry- and technology-driven careers that are relevant,” said Mike Shallenberger, the school’s Engineering Department chair. He notes that often, P-TECH programs are an extension of an existing college degree. But he and his colleagues at STEM School Highlands Ranch had something different in mind.
“We spent some time on a market analysis and survey to determine what types of technical skills were needed, and what types of jobs locally, regionally and nationally are experiencing a lack of available talent both today and going forward,” he said. “What we saw was a huge need in mechatronics education to support automation; something that pulled together the disciplines of programmable logic controller (PLC) programming, fluid power, motion control and more.”
Once the two schools agreed to pursue development of a P-TECH program, they needed to find a business partner. They didn’t have to look far. Just at the other end of the city block where STEM School Highlands Ranch resides is Panther Industries. The two already had a long-standing and successful relationship that includes student regular tours of the company’s facility, a paid summer internship program, and Panther employees mentoring the school’s robotics teams.
Shallenberger said Panther’s real-world insight has already brought tremendous benefit to both his students and STEM School Highlands Ranch teachers. “Their input allows me to verify that my curriculum is meeting industry needs, and that what we are teaching is current and relevant,” he added. “We knew they’d be the ideal partner for our P-TECH program.”
Companies interested in pursuing the development of, or a partnership with, a P-TECH program in their area, should first verify that their state has approved the appropriate legislation via ptech.org, as well as to local community colleges and STEM schools.
Recognizing that not every company can commit to participating in an advisory board or providing internships, Shallenberger said that any company is welcome to provide input to his programs’ curricula. Even more welcome are equipment donations, he added.
“Not only have we been working on developing the P-TECH mechatronics curriculum, we’re also trying to get equipment,” he explained. “We see this program—with its opportunities to use actual machinery—as being better than sitting in a traditional classroom, so we’re counting on original equipment manufacturers’ willingness to support a program like this and donate equipment. Because we can’t get this stuff from a bake sale.”