Sean Denny is a PLTW District Delegate and teaches Introduction to Engineering Design (IED), Principles of Engineering (POE), Aerospace Engineering (AE), and Engineering Design and Development (EDD).
Several people have pointed out that we have a very successful advisory committee. This is always followed by questions of how we built the team. I have to warn you that a good committee takes work and time. However, the time and energy you put into it at the beginning pays exponential dividends later in the program.
The first thing that we did was to begin by getting our students in front of community leaders, manufacturing and engineering companies, and other local programs of interest. We asked to let our students tour their factories and places of work. Each time we went, we handpicked students who represented themselves and the school well. At school, the students wear professional dress, practice public speaking, work on their resumes, and discuss topics of interest with one another. When our students address the community, they are well-spoken and informed. This creates interest in what we are doing at the school.
After these companies and community programs see our students, we then look for ways to get them to come and see what we do. Human resources people are the first people you want to invite in. They see our students as a future workforce and desperately want to connect to them. Once they see the level of work and knowledge that we require of our students, we invite them to join the advisory board.
In the advisory board meetings, we ask them to critique what is happening in the classroom and the work of the students. Are there industry standards we should be including? What do our students need to work on to be employable as interns or workers? How can our students be involved in their companies?
As they become more involved, we get to ask for internships, scholarships, and financial support. We currently have worked with our team to create competitive internships for our students between their junior and senior years. We work with the local manufacturing community team to fund scholarships and school programs. We have an HR team that comes in every spring and works with the students on their resumes and does mock interviews. We actually have had students hired to real jobs through this process.
This is not a quick process. It has to start with the students. Train them to represent the program, and then let them represent it. Work with them on resumes and their presentation. Talk to everyone you can, and when you do, have a student in tow. It is easy to dismiss an adult who will never work for you. It is very difficult to dismiss a student who may one day be your next engineer or floor manager. Eventually the companies around you will start coming to you, asking to be a part of what your students are doing.