Engineering the future

Experts promote careers as engineers of all types to Vancouver iTech Prep students

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter



Ninth-grade students at the new Vancouver iTech Preparatory had done their homework.

They posed plenty of questions to the Bonneville Power Administration engineer and electrician during the inaugural Careers in Energy Week presentation on Wednesday.

"What is the most reliable and powerful energy source?"

Vancouver iTech Preparatory

District: Vancouver Public Schools.

High school program currently has 84 ninth-grade students.

High school campus: Clark College Building at Washington State University Vancouver.

Middle-school program currently has a total of 119 students in sixth and seventh grades.

Middle school campus: Jim Parsley Community Center.

Eventually the iTech Prep program will be offered to grades 6-12.

On the Web

Learn more about the effort to encourage students to pursue careers in energy at this website.

"Besides hydro and wind power, what other kinds of power do we have in the Northwest?"

"Is it true that we need more engineers?"

About 40 ninth-grade students enrolled in iTech Preparatory attended the presentation, a new program of the Bonneville Power Administration and the Oregon/Southwest Washington Energy Consortium. It's part of an effort to get students interested in careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

"One of the consortium's goals is to create the excitement factor in kids," said Kevin Wingert, public affairs specialist with BPA.

Ayo Idowu, an electrical engineer with BPA, told the students that the agency employs electrical, civil and mechanical engineers. They can be a field technician working outside or can work indoors in a lab. Energy careers at BPA include engineers, technicians, line workers, electricians, pipe layers and power plant operators.

"Engineers find ways to solve problems. Make things work better," said Idowu, who is an expert in telemetry. In layman's terms, he ensures all data is validated from meters in the field.

Idowu showed slides of young, innovative, contemporary engineers who have reaped financial rewards: Larry Page, co-founder of Google and Steve Chen and Chad Hurley, co-founders of YouTube.

A student asked about the starting pay for an engineer. Depending on the engineering area of expertise and the geographical location, starting pay is between $55,000 and $60,000.

"Yes, the money's good, but you're helping to change lives," Idowu said. "You're making a difference."

BPA has a college student apprenticeship program that allows students to put into practice what they're learning in the classroom as they earn a good wage, starting at $27 per hour.

"There's always going to be a need for engineers," said Anne Jernberg, a power system electrician for the agency.

STEM careers are one of the fastest growing as the world becomes more technology driven and the baby boomers retire.

Jernberg is proof that the agency's apprenticeship program is a success. She was working as a BPA secretary when her supervisor asked if she'd be interested in the agency's apprenticeship program. She entered the program in 1996 and spent four years becoming an electrician.

The Bonneville Power Administration and all other federal agencies are implementing a new internship program called Pathways that will replace the older internship program.

In its inaugural year, iTech Preparatory has students in sixth, seventh and ninth grades. The school, part of Vancouver Public Schools, opened its doors on Sept. 5. These ninth-graders will be the school's first graduating class in 2016.

Students Ryan Schmidt and Luke Collins, both 14, had posed many of the questions during the session. Both are considering engineering careers.

"Here in the classroom — this is where it starts," Idowu said. "Getting the math and sciences in is the key."