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A cutting-edge future

TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Tualatin High technologies teacher David Ellington helps student Tanya Mikheyeva with Autodesk Inventor.“See that sharp corner on the ‘E’?” David Ellingson told his students during their second meeting of the year. “It’s impossible to make it in the machine.”

The Digital Design and Fabrication class, a new course offered at Tualatin High School, dove right into the first stages of conceptualizing ideas on their computers.

“I want kids to, as soon as possible, get working with some of the machinery,” said Ellingson, who teaches engineering and manufacturing classes at Tualatin High.

To get them going, he gave them an exercise to design a small, simple nameplate design.

This year, Tualatin High’s career-technical education (CTE) program has expanded to offer a new advanced manufacturing pathway, which includes a Digital Design and Fabrication class, as well as a course in Tech Geometry.

Since its inception, Tualatin High School has offered business, career and technical pathways to students looking to gain real-world, 21st-century skills.

The new pathway is possible, in part, thanks to $385,215 the district was awarded this January through the Oregon Department of Education’s CTE Revitalization Grant.

“With that, we were able to get more equipment,” said Ellingson.

Ellingson spent the summer visiting local machining and manufacturing companies, getting their input on how to best use the funds allocated for Tualatin High. TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - These are examples of what students will be modeling in their Tualatin High technologies class.

During the first two weeks of the school year, he began implementing those ideas into his class activities.

Students used “Autodesk Inventor Professional” software to design a 4-by-6 inch plate that will later be laser-cut with their name and a logo.

Ellingson helped students troubleshoot their designs to address the limitations of the laser cutting machine and the wood or acrylic blocks onto which they will print their designs.

“So it’s not just an idea, but what happens in real life,” said Ellingson.

The laser cutting machine is computer that is numerically controlled — when students export their drawings into a format the laser can understand and press “go,” the laser will know how to cut out their designs.

Students from both the engineering and advanced manufacturing pathways signed up for the course.

While some came with the pre-requisite knowledge of computer-aided design (CAD), others had to learn on the job.

Ellingson credits specialization opportunities at Tualatin High with opening up a world of possibilities for students.

“One of the things it lets people do is explore a bit,” said Ellingson, explaining that students with a range of learning styles benefit from innovative course options.

“For instance, students are taking the Tech Geometry class who might not have done as well in a regular geometry class,” said Ellingson. “It’s more hands-on.”

“It helps then learn to work through the entire process of idea to finished product,” said Ellingson. “It engages them in problem solving.”

Preparing for the future

For some students, CTE classes are just an introduction to a new skill set. For others, it’s a stepping stone to apprenticeships, explained Noelle Gorbett, a teacher on special assignment who works on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) initiatives, as well as instructional improvement in the Tigard-Tualatin School District.

“It’s not just, ‘Oh, these are the kids we are going to send off to be in blue-collar jobs,’” added Ellingson.

Courses prepare students to become anything from machinists to engineers to designers.

Sophomore Hattie Tow has always had a penchant for digital design and art.

“This is one possible application of that,” said Tow, who learned how to use “Adobe Photoshop” last year and is now adjusting to a new software for the class.

Ellingson stressed that artists are increasingly using different kinds of technology to produce their works.

For instance, a sculptor could design his or her vision on the software, then feed instructions for the machine to cut marble.

“You can do a lot that maybe you couldn’t do by hand,” said Ellingson. “Someone could express their ideas through the computer.”

The technology has implications beyond the Digital Design and Fabrication course.

Ellingson, who is the coach of the robotics team at Tualatin High, said that the team could design and manufacture small parts using the machine, cutting costs.

He hopes that the high school will be able to further expand its tech facilities.

In July, a statewide measure qualified for the ballot that would make funds available for school districts to spend on career-technical education and dropout prevention programs.

If the measures passes, an estimated $3.14 million of that amount could be available for the Tigard-Tualatin School District to spend on programs, such as vocational and career-technical education, as well as community college co-enrollment.

While she declined to comment on Measure 98 specifically, Gorbett said that increased resources would be a boon to the district.

“The more support we can get, the better,” said Gorbett.