After Pres. Barack Obama said in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, Jan. 25, that America needs to be the leader in innovation and invention of new technologies, Congressman Paul Tonko visited Colonie High School students who were doing just that on Thursday, Jan. 27.
That’s what it’s all about, he said in the speech to students, teachers and school administrators upon entering the classroom. `Introducing people to the potential of careers, to the passions that you want to embrace, because each of us has gifts that we need to discover.`
The school was one of the first to adopt the Project Lead the Way program in New York State back in 1997, helping students become prepared for jobs in the field of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and introducing them to careers in these fields.
The students in room 136 of the school were working on several different projects when Tonko showed up. Seniors James Mele, Mike Metzger and Yaw Agyei were individually working on bridges for the 2011 Model Bridge Competition on February 17, at the Marriott Hotel in Albany.
Mele said they are working on bridges that can hold the most weight for a possible $500 cash prize. He added that he had made a bridge previously in his Principles of Engineering class to learn the, but said the competition was voluntary.
Seniors Nick Malatesta, who will be attending RIT, and Sarah Mead, who will be attending WPI, invented their own device that makes sure a homeowner’s sub-pump is running.
`I’ve talked to a lot of engineers that have gone through college that have explained to me that this kind of stuff that we’re doing here in high school is the same kind of stuff that they do as their senior projects for college,` said Malatesta. `So it’s almost like we’re four or five years ahead of everyone else.`
Mead said having the recognition from Tonko was `rewarding` and with the fact that the congressman is heavily involved in the technology and energy industry added a little more weight to it.
`It was definitely rewarding actually meeting someone who is familiar with the sort of stuff we’re learning right now,` she said.
Right before television station YNN were about to film a spot about the device, Tech Education Teacher Barry Witte asked Malatesta if they had any plans for copyrighting their work so someone else wouldn’t be able to build their own after seeing it on television.
YNN had to figure out how to work around it by not showing too much of how it works.
Witte said the recognition was a long time coming, as he said Colonie High School has had this program in place for over a decade.
`We’re not doing anything differently than we’ve done for the last 15 years,` he said. `It’s really nice to know that we’ve reached a level of acceptance and recognition that comes with a congressional visit.`
Watching over the students, Witte likened it to the movie `Field of Dreams,` as he said they already know what type of career they would like to pursue and are working diligently towards that goal.
`It’s not like we have the state mandating everybody take this against their will,` he said of the program. `This is truly a place where students, who are interested in their work and have a clear vision of their own future, come and work their hearts out.`
And they do, because even as the Tonko walked around and spoke with teachers and reporters, the students were still hard at work on their projects. He would drop in by and check up on the students, seemingly fascinated by the work they were doing while letting them know that they were just the kind of workers this country needs to progress forward.
Tonko constantly referred to the global race the United States is in, mentioning that the country is behind others such as China, and that the only way to push forth and catch up by introducing programs such as Project Lead the Way into the educational realm.
`I think that is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow,` he said. `When we instill hope into the lives of young students and give them direction and open up their discovery of who they are and what exists out there, then we’re all benefited by that as a society because we will advance this global race on clean energy and innovation, which we must win.“