Bob Couch is busy making sure 700 high school students get off to a good start at the new Center for Advanced Technical Studies in the Spring Hill area.
He gets to focus on that after spending several weeks hiring a 20-member faculty and ordering nontraditional school equipment, such as welding machines, auto repair tools and kitchen appliances
The plan is for students to learn in a hands-on setting that blends traditional academics with modern technology, Couch says.
He became principal of the school after 14 years encouraging such instruction as a state education official.
The Center for Advanced Technical Studies is designed for students more interested in careers than college after graduation.
It offers 17 specialties ranging alphabetically from aerospace engineering to veterinary science.
Couch talked recently about Lexington-Richland 5s newest school.
What distinguishes the Center for Advanced Technical Studies from similar instruction elsewhere in the area?
The Center for Advanced Technical Studies is built around the core belief that the future is created by challenging the impossible. The design of the programs enables students to be innovative learners and problem solvers of the future. All students are required to define a problem, conduct research and present a solution in a final capstone project that they present in a public venue. A core value in the center is to encourage students to be critical thinkers, problem solvers and to use their creativity in the design and development of solutions to real world problems.
Describe a typical day for students.
Students attend the center for a half-day on morning or afternoon schedule, with 180 minutes of classroom instruction and lab activities on each schedule. The instruction includes course content and hands-on lab activities that apply the content in project-based lessons. For example, a student in Aerospace Engineering may be studying force and propulsion and then may construct a model plane to apply the physics required for an airplane to fly. In media technology and film development, students may be writing script, editing, creating a film set or may be operating cameras.
Should students expect to enter careers upon graduation or should they plan to seek extra training in the specialty taken at the center?
The mission of the center is to prepare students to graduate and be college and career ready, enter the global workforce and to be successful and a contributing citizen. Students will be prepared to enter the workforce or military with certification, or may elect to enter a two-year or four-year institution and continue in their field of study. Our district superintendent described the students as being on an educational interstate with many on- and off-ramps. The students will make choices that best meet their educational and career goals as they pursue their life goals.
Should a college-bound student consider taking selected classes here?
Although we have not conducted a survey, we estimate that 80 percent of the students will enter either a two-year or four-year college and continue in the same field or similar field of study. The student population includes about 35 percent honors-level students. The center offers several honors-level courses in biomedical science and aerospace engineering. Students may receive college course credit where there is a college agreement for course recognition. We have students studying veterinary science who plan to become veterinarians and other students planning to become doctors, nurses, engineers, security agents, filmmakers, chefs, auto technicians, builders, nuclear welders and many other career areas.
School officials describe the center as a source of innovative instruction. Give some examples of that.
Teachers are highly qualified in their fields of instruction and many are considered to be the best in the state. The instructional process involves teachers becoming facilitators of learning, guiding students to learn through discovery. Science theories and concepts will be experienced at the center in a learning environment through student-based projects. For example, a student in an alternative energy class conducted research at the University of South Carolina this summer in the area of high temperature fuel cell technology. He designed a prototype application material for a high tech spray device. His plans at the center may be to continue the study of fuel cells or he may elect to study biogas as an alternative energy. Another example is in aerospace engineering, where two groups of students will enter The World Design Challenge competition to design an airplane to improve the aerodynamics in real time. The auto technician students plan to convert a gas powered bus to an electric vehicle. All of the programs will have innovative projects as part of the classroom activities.
Was your curriculum developed in response to requests from students or from consultation with businesses looking to employ persons with the types of training offered?
The curriculum was developed through a combination of research-based activities. Surveys of various businesses were conducted to determine the workforces needs, and business advisory committees were formed to gather ideas for programs and curriculum. I visited schools in Spain and Denmark to gather ideas of inquiry-based learning. The K-12 system in those countries connects course content with real world applications. Their instructional strategy focuses on creative thinking with problem solving, and students are encouraged to work in teams and use the strengths of peer members to create solutions. Our programs and curriculum are designed to meet workforce needs and prepare students to be successful whether they enter directly into the workforce or pursue higher education. What first sparked your interest in career and technical education?
My interest developed as a child when my parents introduced me to erector sets and model airplanes. As a result, my learning style became more visual and hands-on. For several years, I restored cars and was especially interested in VW Beetles. Although I did not pursue a technical path, my interest in technical education has continued.
What is the best piece of advice you give to students to help them succeed?
Students need to be able to think critically, problem solve, work in teams, focus on quality and develop skills to become innovative and creative learners. In addition, students need to explore career paths where they have passion. Most employees who have passion for their jobs find contentment and happiness in their careers.