SVHS Engineering Program Teaches Practical Creativity

(This is part of a multi-story series that explores vocational technical education pathways in Sonoma Valley High School.)

When Charlotte King started her freshman year at Sonoma Valley High School this fall, she enrolled in an engineering course because it seemed like a fun yet challenging option.

Just weeks into the course, she finds herself designing a keychain for a partner in her class on Fusion 360, a cloud-based collaborative engineering platform.

“I like the fact that we’re not just designing something, but also 3D printing,” said 14-year-old Charlotte. “I think it’s going to be cool to see our designs come to life.”

Charlotte has made steady progress with Fusion 360 and enjoys applying her math skills in the Intro to Engineering Design course.

It is one of three courses offered as part of the Engineering Design pathway, contained within the Engineering and Architecture sector of the school’s Vocational Technical Education program.

Michelle Purvis, who has taught courses in biological sciences, geosciences, anatomy and physiology for 20 years — and taught high school for 10 — offers the course’s environmental sustainability course.

Stephen Sorkin, who felt called to teach this fall after a successful career in business, teaches introductory courses in engineering design and engineering principles.

He served as chief strategy officer at Splunk Software Development, was awarded 130 US patents, and earned degrees from Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley. Since moving to Sonoma, he has worked on the brick-and-mortar side of engineering and architecture developing mixed-use and affordable housing in the Sonoma Valley and beyond.

“I chose to come to class to give back to Sonoma Valley students and expand their horizons,” Sorkin said.

Along with his start at SVHS, Sorkin earned a credential in engineering and architecture for designated subjects in Career and Technical Education (CTE).

The three classes currently offered by Sorkin and Purvis on the Engineering Design Pathway, which includes 53 students, use the nationally recognized Project Lead the Way engineering curriculum.

“The Engineering Design Pathway aims to provide an introduction to how real products are designed, built and used in the real world,” said Wendy Swanson, Workplace Learning Coordinator for the College & Career Center of SVHS. “We hope to provide a better understanding of the engineering field in general, empathy for those who make products and the users of those products, and ways to engage in higher-level creative thinking applicable to the beyond these courses.

Two 17-year-old seniors who completed the Engineering Design Pathway last year shared their experiences.

Derek Hernandez-Alonso said the engineering principles course varied throughout the year, and students did a lot of independent work on their own projects, including building vehicles from VEX kits. snap-in programmable robotics, which teach STEM and engineering principles]in groups). He noted that a group used the VEX machines to make a catapult.

“The course was not stressful, but you had to do your best to learn the material,” he says. “For being a small class, this was definitely one of my favorite classes.”

Hernandez-Alonso now plans to pursue a career in kinesiology or sports science.

Luc Rulmont felt that the course taught him above all the importance of collaboration, efficiency and originality.

“Collaborate with others [was emphasized] because you never know who your partner will be on a project,” he said. “I learned to design very quickly and efficiently because sometimes projects have short deadlines and you learn as you go. This class teaches you completely differently than other classes because you can’t copy from someone else or the internet. You have to come up with your own ideas. Principles of engineering was my all-time favorite class.”

Rulmont, who participated in a high school shadowing program with Cisco Webex last summer, hopes to forge a career in computer science or mechanical engineering.

Several local partners – including Mellinger Engineering Inc., City of Sonoma, Sonoma County Water Agency, Peterson Mechanical Inc., Labcon and Price Pump (before leaving the area) – offered job shadowing, internships and /or learning.

The Engineering Design Pathway also partners with the Sonoma County Career Technical Education Foundation, which has funded engineering and other CTE programs, as well as opportunities and connections to Sonoma County industries.

Ryan H. Bowman