Every high school student is looking to find their niche, and STEM Academy at Spokane Valley Tech senior Cooper Wharton was fortunate to find his, even before his first day as a freshman.
Cooper was still an eighth-grader at Greenacres Middle School when he attended an informal presentation by a Spokane Valley Tech representative, and he suspected then that was the place for him. A visit to the school for a welding, 3D printing and robotics night, and talking with teachers about the program and its small class sizes, sealed the deal for him.
Virtual delivery for much of the past year has presented significant challenges in a hands-on curriculum, but Cooper credits his STEM instructors, particularly manufacturing teacher Mark Bitz, with putting together a kit system that has allowed students to do project work individually and with partners.
Spokane Valley Tech resumed full-time in-person classes in early April, and Cooper said he was definitely ready for that.
“Our faculty really stepped up when we were all online, and I chose to stay virtual for a while, but after my manufacturing teacher was fully vaccinated, I was excited to get back into the shop. I really wanted to try welding, and that’s not something I could do at home.”
Cooper’s decision to attend STEM Academy was a natural for him: “I liked LEGOs when I was a kid, and I’ve always enjoyed working with shapes and figuring out how things are put together. Throw math in there, and this has turned out to be exactly what I wanted. We even have a physics room now, and everything I enjoy about school is here.
“I hope to be an electrical or mechanical engineer, so SVT has met all my needs. There are so many great opportunities here. I love to tinker with different things, working on one at a time and getting good at it, then trying other new things. There are so many engineering disciplines, and I think that I could be happy in any of them.”
Cooper is active in the Skills USA club at SVT and is focused on the additive manufacturing competition, which helps participants better understand manufacturing applications and provides them with hands-on experience with the latest 3D printing technology. Two years ago, he and his partner qualified for the national finals in Louisville, and finished fifth.
He also passed the Solidworks associate and professional certification exams by demonstrating his expertise in mechanical design.
“Cooper is brilliant”, Bitz went on, “and whatever he decides to do, he’ll be successful. Last year, for example, he worked with me in preparation for the advanced placement physics exam and got the highest score you can get on it, a 5. And he’s so understated, he doesn’t even mention it.”
Joe Everson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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