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Building Futures One Circuit at a Time: STEM Education for 7th Graders

Ed Brogan
Posted by Ed Brogan on Jun 13, 2024 10:00:00 AM
Building Futures One Circuit at a Time: STEM Education for 7th Graders

I don't know about you, but as a seasoned engineer, I sometimes wonder: What will the next generation of engineers be like? They way kids grow up today is so vastly different than what I was used to. Technology has advanced at an incredible pace in recent years, and it's hard to imagine what the future will hold. But one thing is for sure: STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) continues to be crucial. It will not only equip kids with the necessary skills for their future careers but also help them understand and navigate the technological world around them. That’s why our educational partnership with La Salle Academy is a big milestone we are proud to celebrate during Airline's 75th year in business. Our goal with the program is to give students practical skills and spark their passion for engineering and technology. Keep reading to see how this program impacts students and the community and how we can achieve more together by giving back.

Watch our end-of-program celebration below!

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Inspiring Young Minds in Engineering: How It Started | What Makes This STEM Program Different? | Student Experiences: Hands-On STEM Learning | The Ripple Effect of Giving Back | Looking Ahead | Support STEM Education | Frequently Asked Questions


Key Takeaways

✔️ The STEM partnership between La Salle Academy and Airline Hydraulics provides students with hands-on, practical skills and introduces them to careers in engineering and technology.

✔️ Through its unique experiences, such as PLC programming and real-world simulators, the program makes STEM education more relevant and enjoyable for students.

✔️ This successful collaboration sets an example for other educational institutions and local businesses, demonstrating the beneficial impact of community engagement and investment in future innovators.




Inspiring Young Minds in Engineering: How It Started

This story begins during the challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our connection with La Salle Academy started when Joe Loughran, the Chair of our Board of Directors at the time, donated 400 desk barriers to help students and teachers return to their classrooms with a safer conscience. This kind gesture marked the beginning of our partnership, laying the foundation for a collaborative relationship built on mutual respect for each other's mission. Learn more about this donation in our video below. 

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As we delved deeper into the school's background, we were profoundly touched by numerous stories of its positive impact. The pivotal moment occurred on a seemingly ordinary Saturday during a charity golf event hosted by La Salle Academy. Both Mark Steffens, our current CEO, and I attended, unaware of the profound effect it would have on us. The heartfelt conversations I had with the students moved me deeply. After further discussions with Mark, we realized there was more we could do to support the school's mission. But the question remained: what exactly?

We consulted the school's leadership and asked, "What would make the greatest impact? Monetary donations? Technology? How can we help?"

The school president explained that while they always appreciate financial and technological contributions, they already receive a fair amount of both. They have sponsors for students and recently received a 3D printer. However, they face a significant challenge: they don't know how to use it. Monetary donations and equipment can only go so far. What they truly need is a hands-on teacher to lead a STEM program for their 7th graders. And who better to do that than Airline's experienced engineers?

While brainstorming ideas on what we can teach, I thought of modifying a PLC Programming Course I already teach to adults and offering it to students in a more simplified, kid-friendly format. The class would focus on PLC programming, with the goal of creating a functioning traffic intersection simulator. La Salle's leadership loved the concept, and after some discussions, I started teaching the after-school classes in the final months of the school year.


Going from Engineer to Classroom Instructor: My Lessons Learned

Teaching the first class was an enlightening experience. Admittedly, it was my first time presenting this topic to young kids, and there were several adjustments to be made. The most important lesson I learned was the necessity of making these classes hands-on. After spending all day in regular classes, the last thing kids need is another long PowerPoint presentation. They require an engaging, interactive course.

Once I got the kids to stand up, move to the application area, and engage in hands-on wiring and building, their interest and engagement soared. This approach proved much more effective in capturing their attention and enthusiasm for the lesson.


About the Program


The program focused on introducing students to PLC (Programmable Logic Controller) programming—a key skill needed in modern manufacturing and automation. Here's a snapshot of what the students experienced:

Fundamentals of Wiring and Electronics: Students learned to assemble electronic components and understand the difference between DC electronics and AC power.

Programming Traffic Light Simulators: Starting with data types, students created a simulator that mimicked real-world traffic light intersections.

Mixer Application Projects: To make learning relatable, students wrote programs for mixers, similar to those used in making icy drinks at convenience stores.

Ultimately, we collaboratively created this traffic light demo. The program includes timers that control the duration of each light—yellow, red, and then green—mimicking a real traffic intersection.





Student Experiences

The students’ feedback made it all worthwhile:

Sherrell noted, "For me, it was really about the building. Once I figured out how to program it, it was less confusing. Mr. Brogan explained it well, and I got the hang of it."

Angel shared, "It was really great. We did programs to make a traffic light, and it was actually kind of fun. It took a lot of work, but it was worth it."

🍕 The culmination of their hard work was celebrated with a pizza party, every 7th grader's favorite. Students where able to ask questions and learn about the opportunities in the engineering field directly from professionals from Airline Hydraulics, including (but not limited to) Martin Migliori, Fluid Systems Engineering Manager, and Joelle Andres-Beck, Fluid Systems Engineers. 

Martin spoke to the students and shared, “If you open your mind and your heart to it, you can do it, and it doesn't matter what Walk of Life you come from; it doesn't matter where you're at or where you grow up if you want to do it, you can do it, and doing it by engineering is one of the greatest things you can do for yourself. The sciences will take you into the future, and that's where you want to be, and that's why I love being an engineer.”

Joelle pointed out to students, “There are plenty of examples of why having Engineers who are different than the quote-unquote norm, white men, is important. There are things like the programming of hand soap dispensers not being calibrated to one skin tone. There's stuff like the safety of cars being calibrated to people who are different heights or have big hair; there's lots of stuff where having a unique perspective in the room is valuable.”



The Ripple Effect of Giving Back

The program's success has set the stage for continued collaboration. We plan to return to La Salle Academy next school year and offer a new 15-week course for another group of eager 7th graders.

Michael Shackelford-Peña-Taylor II, a 7th-grade teacher at La Salle Academy, emphasized the program's importance: "This was a great experience for the class. It was a blessing that Airline Hydraulics could come in and do this for us. It helped kickstart our engineering curriculum and opened up new possibilities for our students, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds in STEM fields."


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Looking Ahead

Our partnership with La Salle Academy is more than a one-time success story. It's a great example of what can be done when industry and education work together. Celebrating our 75th anniversary, we remain committed to inspiring young minds and shaping a brighter future through STEM education.

Mark Steffens, Airline CEO, sums it up perfectly, "Our goal is to provide a hands-on, practical learning experience that inspires students to explore the intriguing world of manufacturing and consider careers in this dynamic and rapidly evolving field. We firmly believe that future engineers will thrive by embracing their creativity and problem-solving skills."

Support STEM Education

Want to be part of the change? Whether you’re an educator, a student, or a business leader, you have a role in shaping the future of STEM education. Connect with us to learn more about how you can get involved and make a difference. Together, we can build futures one circuit at a time.


Learn about La Salle Academy

Learn more about Airline's 75th anniversary celebration, Supporting STEM Education.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Who is La Salle Academy?

Opened in 2003, La Salle Academy exclusively serves children from low-income families in West Kensington and Philadelphia from grades three through eight, with a focus on small class sizes and an extended school calendar. The school is entirely supported by donations and charges a nominal tuition fee. It emphasizes values like Peacefulness, Responsibility, Consistency, Motivation, and Respect. The Graduate Support Program helps students through high school, making La Salle Academy a nurturing and supportive environment. Learn more about La Salle Academy on their website. 


What is the significance of the partnership with La Salle Academy?

Our partnership with La Salle Academy aims to empower students with the practical skills needed in engineering and technology and ignite their passion for innovation.

How can I support STEM education?

Anyone can support STEM education, whether you're an educator, a student, or a business leader. Contact us to learn more about how you can get involved and make a difference in shaping the future of STEM education.


Topics: About Airline, STEM Education

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