Schools cultivate skilled workers

In an industry growing increasingly concerned with a lack of homegrown workers, seeds of hope are being planted in Snohomish County.

Three county high schools – Mountlake Terrace, Kamiak and Lake Stevens – have introduced pre-engineering classes using a national curriculum and training.

They are among eight schools in Washington and more than 1,000 nationally using the Project Lead The Way curriculum. The nonprofit group works with schools, colleges and industries to increase the quality and quantity of engineers and engineering technologists that finish school.

For years, the American Electronics Association in Washington has looked for ways to encourage more young people to pursue engineering careers.

The association points to National Science Foundation reports that show Asia is graduating several times as many engineers as the United States each year. It also says Washington state hires the most engineers but is 42nd out of 50 states in training them.

The emergence of schools willing to introduce the pre-engineering curriculum is encouraging, said Terry Byington, executive director of the AEA in Washington.

“We are thrilled beyond words,” she said.

Next year, as many as 17 more high schools across the state could add the pre-engineering curriculum, which emphasizes the application of math and science to hands-on projects.

Freshmen at The Innovation School within Mountlake Terrace High School last week were at work designing and building robots and machines to separate blocks by size and marbles by colors.

Craig DeVine, a former production manager at Fluke Manufacturing Co. in Everett, is one of three teachers at the school with a high-tech background in the private sector.

He believes the training and curriculum are solid, but knows it will take more than that to get more students to pursue engineering careers.

He’s not alone.

“There are not enough kids who want to get into these programs,” said Mark Emmert, the University of Washington president who visited Mountlake Terrace High School last week.

Many math- and science-minded students gravitate toward careers in medicine while other students close the doors on themselves by opting out of rigorous math and science as early as middle school, Emmert said.

“The biggest problem we see is American kids … don’t want to go into engineering,” he said. “We have to find a way to convince kids that science and engineering is cool.”

“We need young people to get into the field,” agreed Terry Bergeson, the state superintendent of public instruction.

Former high school biology teacher Lynn Nixon, now a manager at Agilent Technologies Inc. in Everett, said she was encouraged after she toured Mountlake Terrace classrooms.

“What hit me the most was seeing students able to apply knowledge,” she said. “This is done in partnership with the programs that are already there to help strengthen math and science for kids.”

Reporter Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446 or

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