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High School Students? Engineers? They're Both.

Hands-on training at Richmond High prepares students for careers in fast-growing technical fields

RICHMOND — In a long, whitewashed classroom with rows of Dell computers, Richmond High School math teacher Aurelio Garcia stood behind a gangly sophomore boy sprawled in a blue plastic chair. On the computer screen in front of them, a 3-D image of a train engine hovered over a length of track. The student was using advanced modeling software to design the ridges on the track to be the same distance apart as the wheels of the train. “There you go, make sure that line is parallel to that one,” Garcia said, pointing at the screen.

The software is part of Richmond High’s newest engineering course. It’s offered in the school’s Engineering Academy, a “school within a school” that focuses on polishing the math and science skills that students will need to pursue careers in engineering. Known as AutoCAD, the software is same kind that professional engineers use to draft their models. This particular course and a more advanced version of it offered to seniors are sponsored by Chevron, in partnership with Project Lead the Way, a national nonprofit focused on developing hands-on math and science curricula.

Richmond students aren’t designing real train engines, but their images contain the data a manufacturer would need to create an exact replica of their design — in this case, a locomotive the size of a Monopoly piece. The experience will give them “an understanding that other students do not have” as they prepare to enter the workforce, Garcia said.

The training is subtly honing the students’ other skills in the process. Numbers and calculations dominate their computer screens, but the teens make no mention of mathematics as they eagerly explain their work. “They do math all the time without realizing it, and it’s helping them develop skills in class,” Garcia said with a smile. “I see it in their geometry classes and in their algebra classes.”

Garcia hopes that many, if not all, of the students in his two AutoCAD classes will be inspired to pursue engineering, but for those who aren’t, drafting work — preparing technical drawings — is a real possibility. Most drafting jobs require a few years of professional experience or an associate degree, but the course could at least be a step toward employment that is decently paid and in demand. A quick Google search for AutoCAD drafters in the Bay Area turned up more than two dozen possibilities, offering salaries upwards of $40,000.

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