Michigan Tech Receives $1.6 Million in NSF Grants to Expand High School Enterprise

By Jennifer Donovan | Published

Last year Michigan Technological University piloted a program in three Michigan high schools to give high school students a tantalizing taste of what real life is like working in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM). It was such a resounding success that the National Science Foundation has climbed aboard, awarding Michigan Tech $1.6 million to expand its High School Enterprise Program to eight high schools in cities and towns all over the state.

The program’s goal is to motivate high school students to pursue education and careers in the STEM fields, to help provide the skilled, technologically savvy workforce that Michigan, the nation and world need.

The competitive grants include a $1.5 million, three-year Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) award and a $100,000 one-year grant from a program called Innovations in Engineering Education, Curriculum and Infrastructure (IEECI). Michigan Tech is one of 25 award recipients selected from 1,000 proposals nationwide.

Doug Oppliger, who teaches engineering fundamentals at Michigan Tech and headed the University’s pilot High School Enterprise Program, called the grants “a vote of confidence from NSF.”

Oppliger is a registered professional engineer with 12 years of K-12 science and math teaching experience and 5 years in industry.

“We want to create a model that can be successfully implemented in many of our schools,” he said.

This year, Michigan Tech will sponsor High School Enterprises at Hancock High School, Traverse City Central High School, Arthur Hill High School in Saginaw, Davis Aerospace High School in Detroit and Utica High School. Next year, the program is slated to add two more high schools in Michigan and one in Puerto Rico.

High School Enterprise is a four-way partnership involving the student team, the University, industry and the community. Each participating high school will form a student team with a teacher/coach.

Like the phenomenally successful Michigan Tech Undergraduate Enterprise Program on which it is modeled, High School Enterprise teams will tackle real-world problems provided by industry sponsors. Organized like a business, the student team will apply what they’ve learned in class to developing workable, marketable technological solutions.

For example, last year the Utica High School Enterprise in suburban Detroit designed and built an underwater remotely operated vehicle to compete in a regional competition. They demonstrated their creation at Michigan Tech’s annual Undergraduate Research Expo, winning an award for “best use of advanced technology.”

Because each school and community varies in size, economic resources and access to industry sponsors, the High School Enterprise Program has developed flexible funding and sponsorship models, including corporate founders, corporate sustaining partners, regional corporate partners and small business/booster club supporters.
• Corporate founders are large corporate benefactors whose needs and interests align so closely with those of a High School Enterprise team that the corporation endows a high school’s Enterprise program, guaranteeing ongoing support.
• Corporate sustaining partners are large corporations with strong ties to their communities and interests in promoting STEM workforce education and development, who will commit to funding a High School Enterprise for a number of years.
• Regional corporate partners are smaller corporations willing to join with other regional firms to support a High School Enterprise in a community where those companies operate.
• Small business/booster club supporters would work together in smaller communities to fund and sustain a High School Enterprise is their local school.

Jean Kampe, a Michigan Tech alumna who now chairs the University’s Department of Engineering Fundamentals, will head the new program. Robert Warrington, director of Michigan Tech’s Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies, will help find corporate and community partners. Warrington was instrumental in the development of Michigan Tech’s phenomenally successful Undergraduate Enterprise Program, on which the High School Enterprise Program is modeled.

Other key players at Michigan Tech include Susan Amato-Henderson, an associate professor of cognitive and learning sciences at Michigan Tech; John Jaszcak, professor of physics; Robert Mark, professor of practice in marketing and entrepreneurship in the School of Business and Economics; Mary Raber, coordinator of the Undergraduate Enterprise Program; and Valorie Troesch, professor of practice in the Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies.

Michigan Technological University is a leading public research university, conducting research, developing new technologies and preparing students to create the future for a prosperous and sustainable world. Michigan Tech offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in engineering, forestry and environmental sciences, computing, technology, business and economics, natural and physical sciences, arts, humanities and social sciences.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 60 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.