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Students get geared up in Lake Oswego High's new engineering class

Do-it-yourself class teaches students to solve problems on their own
by: VERN UYETAKE LOHS senior Aike Burger makes some adjustments to the gear drive of her team’s compound machine in the school’s new engineering class.

One thing is very noticeable about the new engineering class at Lake Oswego High School.

Class teacher Tom Smith is watching his students. They aren't watching him.

That is because instead of students sitting back and absorbing knowledge, they are doing things themselves. Next to just having the long-awaited engineering class, the fact that students are now developing their skills on their own is what they like most.

'It's an amazing experience,' said junior Jason Kelley. 'It's very hands-on, and that's not something you experience in other classes with books and stuff. This is what engineering is about.'

'It's fun to explore,' said Sophia Liu, a senior. 'I really like building things myself and not just watching teachers build them.'

Jennifer Braschayko is a science- and math-loving young lady, and the firsthand nature of the engineering class takes her to another level.

'I can really use my imagination in this class,' said Braschayko, a senior. 'Everything is up to me. In other classes I'm sitting down and listening.'

All things considered, Braschayko would rather build towers and fit machines together.

Smith doesn't mind looking over his students' shoulders.

'From a teaching perspective, there is so much these kids can learn from hands-on experience with equipment,' said the sixth-year science teacher.

Smith's classroom is a happy place, but it took many years to happen. First, he said, it is simply hard to start a new class. Also, the economy has been struggling for several years. Somehow LOHS finally got it done.

'We've been working on having an engineering class for years,' Smith said. 'There are high startup costs with something like this, and you can't do it at the drop of a hat.

'Cindy Schubert (LOHS assistant principal) and Bruce Plato (principal) were real supportive, and we were able to get the funding and grants to get this started. The Laker Club helped us get a National Science Foundation grant.'

As the old saying goes, if you start an engineering class, students will come. In fact, Smith was overwhelmed with applicants. They included the best and the brightest of LOHS.

'Ever since Mr. Smith began talking to me about it I've been really excited,' Braschayko said. 'I know it was really competitive and there were a lot of applications.'

Braschayko was a perfect fit for the new class. She has taken physics, advanced calculus, oceanography and algebra.

'I'm really into being an engineer,' she said. 'I'm really considering that as a career.'

Kelley, whose father is an engineer, is thinking along the same lines. His enthusiasm is infectious.

'I've started an engineering club here,' he said. 'I'm the founder and president.'

With so much brains, energy and enthusiasm filling the classroom, Smith thinks the best is yet to come.

'The students have been such a great help to me developing the class and taking on responsibility,' he said. 'This is a building block for something more complex in the future.'