MT. VERNON — Thanks to the skills he learned in Project Lead The Way, Mt. Vernon teen Jonathan Stowers is well on his way to pursuing a career in mechanical engineering.
Stowers, 18, graduated from Mt. Vernon Township High School in May. He was recently awarded a $48,000 Presidential Scholarship to attend Bradley University in the fall.
He is one of three students who were the first to complete the Project Lead The Way courses offered locally at the MVTHS Area Vocational Center.
The hands-on program gave Stowers a foundation of knowledge that will serve him well throughout his career, he said. Stowers also credits his Project Lead The Way teacher, Gary Hatfield.
“It taught me the basic theories of engineering and how they actually work in the industry,” Stowers said, adding that the classes themselves are a proving ground for students. “It’s really an eye-opener to see if you want to be an engineer or not. It shows you how difficult an engineer’s job is.”
Project Lead The Way provides engineering and biomedical sciences courses to high schools and middle schools across the country. The schools pay for the curriculum, equipment, and teacher training for the program.
MVTHS started its local PLTW program three years ago. Qualifying students from Mt. Vernon, Waltonville, Webber, Woodlawn, and Wayne City can take part.
The courses let students focus in on what branch of engineering they’d like to pursue while also helping them qualify for scholarships and employment, said Robert Knutson, director of the MVTHS Area Vocational Center.
“Having that idea of direction and focus is very advantageous,” Knutson said.
Students take the elective PLTW courses during their regular school day. Stowers described the classes as a combination of coursework and hands-on activities.
Stowers said the mathematical aspect of engineering is what drew him to the field. He also has a family connection to engineering. His parents, Jim and Robin Stowers, manage the local companies Bennett Metal Products and Midwestern Machine & Hydraulics.
After graduating from Bradley University, Stowers plans to come back to Mt. Vernon to work for Bennett Metal Products. His grandfather, Jim Bennett, founded the company.
“I’ll be the third generation to work in Bennett (Metal Products),” Stowers said.
While at MVTHS, Stowers also competed on the Skills USA engineering team, which placed second at state two years in a row.
More than 4,200 schools in the U.S. offered PLTW courses to their students during the 2011-2012 school year, states the PLTW website.
MVTHS is one of only three high schools in Illinois that has both biomedical and engineering PLTW courses, Knutson said.