Pasco high school students seeking a real-world engineering experience soon could have their chance.
Five area manufacturers announced Tuesday that they will join forces with River Ridge High's new engineering career academy, which opens in fall 2009, to provide students work opportunities while they are still in school.
Coastal Caisson, Micron Pharmaworks, Jabil Circuit, Nielsen Co. and Pall Aeropower plan to welcome students in the River Ridge academy as part of an apprenticeship program. The program is being organized by J. Paul Wahnish of the Pinellas-based nonprofit Career Technical Education Foundation.
Wahnish created East Lake High's Academy of Engineering, which will expand its internship offerings.
"The idea is to start a program of internships starting in the 10th grade," said Wahnish, who presents the idea to the Florida Engineering Society today.
By the time graduation rolls around, students will have had three six-week apprenticeships and received industry certifications in computer-assisted design and other applications. They also will be ready to go to work or enroll in a university program. Even those who go to work still would attend college at least two days a week.
The concept is based on Apprenticeship 2000, Wahnish said, and employs the Project Lead the Way curriculum.
He expects the program to be successful enough that other companies soon will want to join the effort.
Pasco School Board chairwoman Kathryn Starkey, who has coordinated with Wahnish to bring the concept to Pasco, figures the model eventually will extend to other career academies as they grow.
"I think the possibilities are huge for our students," Starkey said.
Bill Peters, Jabil Circuit senior vice president for human resources, said his company has seen the internships work with East Lake High students. He looks forward to bringing more interested teens into the fold.
"It's something we take a lot of pride in," Peters said. "It makes sense for industry. … It's a great feeder."
That's important for the future of local engineering businesses, said Peter Buczynsky, president of Micron Pharmaworks.
"You just see a lack of interest in this area," he said. "It's so difficult when you're recruiting to find people who are passionate about what they do."
Buczynsky said he hopes that bringing students into the workplace will drive their interest in the engineering that they do. He figures that by seeing it firsthand in big companies and small ones, students will better understand what they want for their futures.
"I think what we do is exciting," he said. "I'd like to pass that passion on to students."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.