Agencies | Governor
Virginia Regulatory Town Hall
Department of Education
State Board of Education
Licensure Regulations for School Personnel [8 VAC 20 ‑ 22]
Action Comprehensive Revision of the Licensure Regulations for School Personnel
Stage Proposed
Comment Period Ends 11/6/2015
Previous Comment     Next Comment     Back to List of Comments
11/2/15  9:20 pm
Commenter: Kurt P. Thompson, PE

Support for the Engineering Teacher Endorsement

My name is Kurt Thompson and I have been a registered Professional Engineer (PE) in the Commonwealth of Virginia since 1985. I earned the title after graduating with a Bachelors of Science Degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Virginia, then passing the Engineer In Training Exam, then passing the PE exam after acquiring sufficient documented experience. I explain this background to provide an understanding of what it takes to be called a 'Professional Engineer' and what it takes to be able to state your name with a "P.E." behind it.

I am also a Project Management Professional (PMP) having met the requirements of the Project Management Institute and passing their exam, and I taught high school engineering in Henrico County for five years. Since I left engineering to become an engineering teacher I was a "career changer" having to become endorsed in Technology Education. I was required to take over fifteen hours of additional classes and pass the relevant Technology Education Praxis. I know what is required to become Technology Education Endorsed. I am writing in support of the new Engineering Teacher Endorsement.

When I taught the high school engineering related curriculum I worked with Career and Technical Education (CTE) teachers. These teachers were well qualified, and some were truly inspirational with a zest for what they were doing. This Engineering Endorsement effort is not intended to disqualify these teachers. It is simply about using the best talent to fill a very important engineering education void in our public education system. Engineering is a greatly misunderstood profession and one of the most challenging to acquire. Perhaps it is because very few students see anything about engineering during formal schooling but that needs to change. Based on both my experience as a teacher and in industry, it is my strong belief that the integration of engineering teachers into a high school's faculty will increase interest in CTE and vice versa. With their advanced theoretical and applied math and science training engineers explain to high school students why they need to learn advanced math including Geometry, Trigonometry and Calculus, and the advanced sciences including Biology (for Biomedical Engineering), Chemistry and Physics.

As I read some of the comments that have been posted in regard to this new endorsement I feel that it might be helpful to provide some of my experiences in industry as a practicing engineer working as a part of a production team – team being a key word. I worked in the aluminum industry for many years. Some of my experience was providing engineering services to numerous plants while being part of their internal consulting engineering group. At one point I worked in the aluminum company's Research and Development group and was in charge of the largest R&D Program in the company. Subsequent to the career with the aluminum company I worked providing consulting engineering services for my own company and for other companies. I currently provide mechanical engineering services at a polymer plant. If a company is well run then engineering and technicians are not rivals. They work together and this is what needs to be emulated in the school setting. Engineers do not try to do technicians' jobs and vice versa. While each may (and should) know a lot about the other's technical contributions, each also recognizes the other has a skill set that is different but complimentary to their own. The cooperative effort becomes one of identifying a problem, what is causing the problem, and what needs to be done to correct it. The engineer can run calculations to quantify the situation and outline some steps (make this bigger, that lighter, do this differently, use a tougher (fatigue related) material or a more corrosion compatible material, etc.) and the technician indicates what is easy to do or cannot be done.  A seemingly straightforward example concerns a “one sided fillet weld” where the opposite side is inaccessible.

These types of welds are used to attach small trapezoidal box beam stiffeners to a steel orthotropic deck. They are accessible from only one side and it is a fatigue sensitive connection. If not performed well fatigue problems leading to possible early failure will occur with only light stresses. In some cases what is needed to endure cannot be easily performed by the welding technician. The bottom line is the two team members have determined the current detail is difficult to make acceptably because the technician has difficulty making the required weld quality. In this way the technician shares his greater hands-on experiences with observations to help find alternative designs. There is give and take which is very beneficial. It is a symbiosis and/or teamwork relationship that causes success. The same should be true in preparing future engineering students for the rigors of college and therein lays the apparent need for a new Engineering Teachers Endorsement to work with CTE Educators.

A similar symbiosis exists between engineers and scientists. When engineers are called upon to design new technologies to scientists’ specifications, such as NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to seek out new extra-galactic images, or NASA's Mars Exploration Rover, engineers and scientists work shoulder to shoulder to design technology that will meet the scientists’ needs, meet the mission constraints regarding weight, size, and durability, and meet the technicians constraints regarding manufacturability.  Thus engineers require a major skillset in engineering analysis and design, with significant knowledge of advanced science and math, and an ability to understand and translate into acceptable design parameters, the technicians’ knowledge of practical manufacturing constraints.

I have read most of the Engineering Endorsement related comments. I perceive there are some erroneous beliefs by many opposing the new Engineering Teacher Endorsement. From what I read this new endorsement is not suggesting that engineers can take their degree in engineering and instantly qualify to walk into a classroom and teach as some opponents have opined. There are other requirements above and beyond the engineer's degree which will require them to learn the different teaching strategies, develop an understanding of the emotional and physiological development of adolescent students, how to control a classroom, etc. What is being said is that people with engineering degrees do not need an additional 12 hours in CTE related classes to be able to teach engineering. Moreover, they are better suited to teach a science or math than a CTE class which will help them fill their schedules to qualify as a full time teacher. What is also being said is that CTE Degreed Teachers can also teach engineering but they must demonstrate and pass specific and an adequate number of classes that help them understand some of the knowledge that an engineer must learn and use.

The transition to highly qualified  Engineering Teachers needs to start now. We need to fill the large understanding of engineering void that continues to exist despite the perceived progress that has been made in recent decades. This transition to use properly qualified teachers needs to start by enabling engineering degreed teachers to straightforwardly fill the role and by enabling CTE Teachers to transition to become qualified through additional relevant education.

There is also a need to clarify what is relevant such as addressing the confusion in regard to computers, technology and engineering.

Technology and computers are not synonymous although many have that opinion. I have dealt with educators and professionals who continue to be confused about this. The accurate use of the term "technology" includes computers but when someone speaks of the technology the Egyptians used to build the Great Pyramid they are not speaking of the “computers” the engineers used at that time. Being literate in computer programming is not synonymous with technology and, while required for engineering, does not, in and of itself, qualify anyone to do engineering work.

Also as a matter of clarification: Does it make sense for any CTE Teacher to automatically be qualified to teach high school engineering? As it stands now the only requirement to teach a high school engineering class is to be CTE Endorsed so any CTE Teacher regardless of their forte' qualifies. In the opposite vein, consider that a Chemical Engineer who becomes CTE Endorsed is then certified to teach wood working (something the engineer has never studied in engineering coursework) but is not certified teach Chemistry – a discipline in which the chemical engineer has likely had 18 or more hours of advanced college coursework! As stated earlier, engineers have a special interactive relationship with both scientists and technicians but they are not the same.

 A career as a technician can be started while in high school. Sometimes it requires additional training but, by and large, the "competencies" (the term used to describe the CTE Students' mastery of a subject matter and the metrics with which a CTE Teacher's success is validated) for becoming a technician are very different from an engineering candidate. CTE Teachers sign off that they have taught and the student has mastered the relevant competency. Competencies as they are used for CTE students are not as appropriate for a high school engineering student. Engineering students have at least four years of college ahead of them needing 70 or more credit hours of specific math and science classes in order to acquire their degree. They are not going to be able to take their "competencies" learned in high school to get an engineering job.

When I was in college virtually all engineering disciplines (e.g. Civil, Electrical, Mechanical, Nuclear) studied the same core classes for the first two years. The only exception was for Chemical Engineers. It was not until the third year that we began to get into our engineering discipline related classes. Within the first two years of college my colleagues and I had taken 16 hours of Calculus, 11 hours of Physics, 4 hours of Chemistry, 3 hours of Material Science, 3 hours of Statics, 3 hours of Strength of Materials, 3 hours of Thermodynamics, 3 hours of Dynamics, and 3 hours of Electrical Engineering. We also had 3 hours of drafting which was our only CTE type class. I suspect the curriculum has changed very little and we had room for only two or three general electives in the first four semesters.

I was a mechanical engineering major so in the third year I took more Thermodynamics, Fluid Mechanics, more Dynamics, Machine Design, and Kinematics of Machinery, and on it went. The fourth year included Heat and Mass Transfer.  The classes were heavy math and science (particularly physics) related curricula and herein is where engineering and technicians differ in educational background, and it is also where engineering differs from someone majoring in CTE. The point is their educational background is very different and CTE Teachers without additional requirements do not have the correct perspective of what an engineer is because they have not had to deal with this type of subject matter. They have been trained to think like a technician so that they can teach future technicians.

One big reason there is a current industry focus on the Engineering Teacher Endorsement is that there is a lack of engineers which slows our country's growth. Tracing the problem backwards, there are too few engineering college graduates because there are too few engineering candidates entering college. Many if not most engineering freshmen will not succeed in acquiring their engineering degree. Improving the success rate would be a big step toward filling this country's needs and it begins with a better understanding of what engineering is before applying to a school. It is my goal that by enabling engineers to become teachers with schedules comprised of classes they are best suited to teach (engineering, a math and/or a science) that they will enhance a school's faculty linking science and math, with engineering and related CTE classes to help improve the success rate of those interested in becoming an engineer, and providing practical real-world applications of advanced math and science to all students in those classes. Engineers teaching engineering can also clarify what is involved to be an engineer thereby preventing high school students and even college freshmen from becoming disenchanted with the quantity of difficult math an engineering degree requires causing them to drop out. A key point here is that the students know what they are getting into before applying to a college so those who start are more apt to persevere.

We need to focus on the high school preparation for the students to not only have the proper prerequisites for engineering but to develop an understanding of why they need to know these prerequisites. There is often no one to provide this understanding in high schools. Engineers not only have to learn these subjects in detail they need to know how to apply them to solve problems. Who better to deliver these understandings to a high school student than an engineer?

STEM is an acronym that comes from 'Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.' It is interesting that each of the subjects which are represented in the acronym currently have a Teaching Endorsement except for engineering (moreover, science even has separate endorsements for each of four sub-disciplines: biology, chemistry, earth science, physics). And yet being an engineer is one of the most challenging degrees to acquire as it requires significant knowledge of math, science, and technology along with its own unique engineering analysis and design skillsets. Why do we even question the need for this endorsement?

Years ago CTE Specialists developed a model high school concept touted as the way of the future. It incorporated careers and what is needed to fill those careers into the high school curriculum to help the students understand why they are studying what they are being taught. The concept has merit and if Engineering becomes a Teaching Endorsement then the potential for this type of interactive synergy can ensue. CTE and Engineering Endorsements can evolve to mimic industry and society making the entire high school offering more valuable.

It is with this background that I heavily encourage the Engineering Teacher Endorsement.