This fall, when mathematics students at the Hopkins County Career and Technology Center ask their instructor, “When are we ever going to use this in our lives?” The answer will come in the form of a Van Halen title: “Right Now.”
As the rest of Hopkins County Schools is welcoming in its second educational trimester, tech center students who are enrolled in Manufacturing Processes ad Materials (AIM 110) will begin making their own electric guitars completely from scratch.
Throughout the STEM-Guitar project (science, technology, engineering and math) students will not only utilize their skills in modeling, blueprinting, electric circuits and mathematics to craft their own playable six-string, but they will also earn 16 hours of dual credit toward a manufacturing degree at Madisonville Community College.
The project — the first of its kind to be implemented at the high school level in the state of Kentucky — was made possible by a $475,000 educational grant from the National Science Foundation.
According to instructors, offering students a unique, real-world application to studies is key to attracting them to STEM-related fields.
“When you are taking math in high school, you are thinking ‘I will never use this in my life,'” MCC Applied Technology instructor Modestos Modestou said. “If you put something like this in a classroom, they will pay attention. They will know what to do.”
Students will be tasked to take specific measurements, make precise cuts and grooves and manage electrical circuits in order to make the perfect working guitar. They will be using the same mathematical functions and formulas as they would in their regular manufacturing class, only now they will have something to take home to show for it.
“What we found in the past, is that sometimes it’s difficult to attract high school students into technical programming,” David Schuermer, MCC’s director of grants, planning and institutional effectiveness said. “It is not hard to attract them into health sciences. They know what a nurse, radiographer and paramedic does. When you talk about an advanced numerated technician, for example, they don’t.
“(Technical programming) is demanding and it’s changing,” Schuermer continued. “There are bunches of jobs out there.”
The project will officially kick off in November. While students will be utilizing the manufacturing laboratory at the technical center, they will be assisted online by Modestau at MCC. So far, six students have signed up for the project, with more coming in as word of mouth continues.
“We want students to experience something like this before they go to college,” Modestau said. “We want them to get the confidence to think they can do stuff like this — that they can build another one of their own back at home.”
Senior Will Sanderson said he wasn’t timid about utilizing his math skills for such a project — he just wants to make sure the finished product can carry a tune.
“I have never even played a guitar before,” he said. “Well, I tried to learn, but I got really mad. I have a future brother-in-law who plays a lot. I am thinking about giving mine to him since he doesn’t have one. I just hope it works.”
The National Science Foundation grant will fund STEM-Guitar during its first three years. HCCTC Principal Pam Todd said she is working on acquiring a sustainability grant to keep the program running for years to come.
“We consider this like a capstone project,” Schuermer said. “We want students to recognize that they can handle the math and science that is embedded in this. So many students don’t think they can handle ‘college work’ and they are intimidated or scared by it.
“(That fear) is out there,” he added. “‘Do I have the math skills?’ ‘Can I read a blueprint?’ Well, Modestos tells me that I can — I guess I do.”