Learning What Industry Wants from STEM Graduates

alphaqRecently, the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering hosted guest speakers from AlphaQ, a precision aerospace components manufacturer in Colchester, Connecticut. Mr. Tom Ferreira, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, and Mr. Sean Rivera, Junior Engineer, came to our school and talked about the aerospace industry in general, and AlphaQ’s products. Then they explained what the aerospace industry looks for in graduates from STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programs, from high schools or technicals schools to community colleges and universities.

They explained that the aerospace industry is a highly skilled workplace environment with clean, high tech shops with a strong demand for smart, hard working graduates. They also showed how the industry is centered in Connecticut, one of the world’s most concentrated areas for aerospace companies. For anyone pursuing a career in aerospace, the forecast is very good for the next few decades, based on current and projected contracts for airliners and aircraft engines. This message was consistent with what we heard earlier this year when we toured two Newington aerospace firms, GKN Aerospace and PCX Aerostructures.

We learned that the name, AlphaQ, means the company holds quality as its highest priority. They manufacture precision parts for many different aerospace companies, such as Sikorsky Aircraft. These parts are often in critical locations on the aircraft, such as the engine or power train. They brought some parts with them and explained the difference between forging and casting, as well as how parts can be manufactured using traditional grinding and cutting machines or with new 3D printers. Students got to handle some of these parts and see the work firsthand.

Finally, both speakers explained what it takes to succeed in the aerospace industry – and in life in general! The most important characteristics were a strong desire to learn and attention to detail. Both men gave examples of these characteristics and how they resulted in success. This message hit home for the academy students, as we emphasize the same principles everyday. By having a strong desire to learn, a student can progress and succeed through hard work, even when a subject seems too difficult at first. By having attention to detail, whether solving a math problem or writing up an engineering project, the student is less likely to make errors and more likely to complete his or her work with excellence. We appreciated the talk from AlphaQ and look forward to working with them more in the future!

Integrating Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math in STEM Lessons

The Academy of Aerospace and Engineering at John Wallace Middle School is a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) program. This means that we strive to integrate those four subjects into every lesson. It is not always possible, but it is the goal. We met this goal this week in 8th grade science where students did a lab where they extracted the DNA from a strawberry, examined it with the naked eye, then with a microscope. The science started when we began the week with an interactive lecture and web quest about genetics and DNA. Then we did the lab as an inquiry activity where the students were told how to extract the DNA from a strawberry, but they were not told what to expect they could see. I polled the class before the lab on who thought they would be able to see DNA, and most students thought they would be able to. I emphasized that scientists are skeptical – they must be convinced by evidence. We did the lab, and the students saw some fibrous material using just their eyes (no microscopes) after the extraction process. The next day, we prepared microscope slides of the fibrous material, then the students saw the fibers in more detail. I asked if they had seen DNA, and about half thought they had. That’s when we did the math lesson. We looked up the width of a DNA molecule — it’s about two nanometers, hundreds of times too small to be seen with an optical microscope. We discussed the sizes of various microscopic objects and what power would be required to see them. Then we learned about the technology behind electron microscopes, and the students learned how scientists can use these instruments to see DNA and other molecular-sized objects. The students concluded that they had seen multiple strands of DNA wound like a rope in the fibers they observed, not individual DNA strands. Finally, we discussed the engineering challenges and opportunities of using nanotechnology. In the end, we covered S-T-E-M though out this week. Coincidentally, Ms. Garavel was introducing the use of microscopes and making microscope slides to the 7th graders. Here are photos from these lessons:

8th graders making naked eye observations of extracted strawberry DNA:

8th graders making microscope observations of extracted strawberry DNA, along with one image of the DNA:

7th graders using microscopes in inquiry lesson: