West Linn-Wilsonville teens gain college-level skills
Five West Linn-Wilsonville teens put on their safety glasses and filed into Oregon Institute of Technology engineering professor Slobodan Petrovic's lab to learn about renewable energy.
But it wasn't just an opportunity to engage in college-level learning — the lab time was part of a three-week unpaid internship that allowed students to receive both high school and college credit.
The teens who opted to participate in the Oregon Tech internship were just a small handful of about 40 high schoolers from across the WL-WV School District participating in the newly-enhanced internship program that connects teens to internships in the community. Internship opportunities cover a variety of interests including agriculture, computer and environmental science and photography.
"When I heard about this opportunity, what stuck out to me is it seemed like a fun, hands-on thing that I could do. I could learn a bit about what goes on, on a more advanced scale compared to what we have at West Linn High School, and actually see some of the technology in action," said WLHS junior Hayden Wierman. "Also, I thought it'd be good to see a different type of engineering, learn about what goes on in renewable energy engineering and kind of see if that was something that interested me."
Though the internship partnership with Oregon Tech is new this summer, the college has been trying to engage regional high schools and give students access to higher education through dual-credit and accelerated-credit opportunities.
The school offers an Early Owls Program that allows students to access college courses on the Oregon Tech campus while still in high school so they have an early opportunity to get on track for higher education.
"Students who may not have that resource, we are trying to work with districts to say 'When does that make sense for students to come over and start engaging in college coursework?" said Josh Jones, academic partnership coordinator.
During the summer internship, WL-WV students explored different engineering pathways and learned about computer science programming, 3D modeling and printing and how to research and use Oregon Tech resources.
"These students going into college will know better how to do college-level research than any of our college freshmen do," Jones said.
The second week students worked with Petrovic in his lab and learned about the solar energy research the college students are participating in, as well as how solar energy works.
Petrovic heads the nonprofit organization Solar Hope, which is dedicated to providing renewable energy solutions to underdeveloped regions. His summer students are currently preparing to travel to Africa on a humanitarian and educational mission to install solar systems in Gambia for one of the largest hospitals there.
"We've learned a lot about how solar panels work and fuel cells and how batteries work. It's actually very complicated," Wierman said. "These days batteries, the technology they use is so small, but there's so much intricacy and inner workings to them. It's been really fun and interesting to see how it all plays out and how it's all made because they have a lot of that here."
The students will complete the third week of their internship at WL-WV School District's Center for Research in Environmental Technologies, where they will develop lesson plans for elementary school students on solar and wind energy, electricity and/or batteries, depending on their interests. The curriculum will be shared with the Bonneville Environmental Foundation and will potentially be uploaded to the foundation's website for teachers to use. It will also be posted on CREST's website.
Wilsonville High School senior Russell Fitch didn't know what to expect entering this internship, but said he is grateful to have gained a variety of knowledge and technological skills.
"I took chemistry last year — AP chemistry — but what we're learning (here is) more advanced, so that was good to build off that knowledge," Wierman said. "I was really into learning how the silicon chips were made and used and that was really interesting to me … that's like the base of all processing for computers, so it's really interesting how that works because I never knew before."
Jones and Carleen Starr, director of education partnerships and outreach at Oregon Tech, both hope the college and the WL-WV School District continue to grow and expand its partnership in the future. This might include having students shadow or intern for departments like Oregon Tech's Marketing Department.
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