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Published September 30, 2009, 12:00 AM

Math and science program to launch in North Dakota

While unemployment plagues some industries, there’s a national shortage of aerospace engineers.

By: Kelly Smith, INFORUM

While unemployment plagues some industries, there’s a national shortage of aerospace engineers.

And with 89 airports and some 12,000 people in North Dakota’s aviation industry, there’s an emerging need to train today’s students to be tomorrow’s engineers.

In turn, it’s prompted a new program to start in North Dakota schools this year called the “Real World Design Challenge,” which was unveiled Tuesday.

“This is about getting young people interested in science and math,” Gov. John Hoeven said. “It’s so important for our country, for our economy.”

It’s also a part of a growing emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) nationwide.

The North Dakota Legislature put $1.5 million into STEM training for teachers last session. And just this fall, West Fargo opened a STEM middle school program.

Starting the “Real World Design Challenge” is just one more way to inspire North Dakota kids to study in these careers, officials say.

With one-third of the nation’s aviation and defense work force at retirement age, young people need to step up, said Ralph Coppola of Virginia-based Parametric Technology Corp.

That’s in part why a pilot program was started last year in Minnesota and nine other states. Coppola expects the program to be in all 50 states by next year.

His company, which directs the program, partners with states and federal agencies to fund software.

“It’s free – I suppose maybe that’s what caught our attention,” said North Dakota Superintendent of Public Instruction Wayne Sanstead.

The program will start in North Dakota schools soon.

Fargo North High School teacher Scott Kittelson will put a team together in the next month. Students will work after school to design a tail section of an airplane wing and also learn real-world skills from a local engineer or aerospace expert.

“It’s a really advanced thing to expose them to,” Kittelson said. “It’s using technology a lot of districts across the country don’t have access to.”

The North students’ design will compete against others across the state, with the winner qualifying for the national contest.

Eleven Minnesota schools were involved in the program last year, but Minnesota Department of Education Coordinator John Raffael anticipates 20 to 30 will join this year.

“We’re talking about all students, not just engineers,” he said. “It’s a really interesting program.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kelly Smith at (701) 241-5515