A special focus on education opportunities in Wisconsin

By Cassandra Lans

MU Professor Andrew Williams is pictured with one of his engineering students, Jerrell Jones, a senior holding one of the robots used in the engineering research lab. (Bell photo)

This week’s Milwaukee Courier focuses on educational opportunities available to students here in Wisconsin. This special focus comes at a time of the year, when many high school seniors and college seniors are making the decision on what to do next with their education.

For high school seniors, prior to that day of the big graduation celebration, a decision has to be made on their next step. A job, a 4 year college or a technical school. Luckily for students here in Wisconsin, there are options, and these options can be attainable and affordable.

High school graduation should not be taken for granted however, it is an accomplishment these days for students to make it that far. Especially during a time when high school graduation rates in the United States are at their highest since 1974, according to a recent U.S. Department of Education report, but Black students graduated at a rate below other ethnic groups.

Of the 4 million public school students who entered 9th grade in the 2006-2007 school year, 78.2 percent, or 3.1 million, received high school diplomas in the 2009- 2010 school year, an increase of more than two percentage points.

Among racial/ethnic groups, Asian/Pacific Islander students had the highest graduation rate at 93.5 percent. The rates for other groups were 83.0 percent for White students, 71.4 percent for Hispanic students, 69.1 percent for American Indian/Alaska Native students, and 66.1 percent for Black students.

The report also detailed the achievement rates by states. Among U.S. jurisdictions, Nevada and the District of Columbia were the lowest, with rates of 57.8 percent and 59.9 percent, respectively. At the high end, Wisconsin and Vermont had graduation rates of 91.1 percent and 91.4 percent, respectively.

Yes, Wisconsin was at the high end. However, it takes a lot of work and a commitment to keep that momentum growing. Even in the hot debate of school choice and school budget cuts, the value of education must remain a top priority for this state.

This week for example, nearly 500 Milwaukee Public Schools middle and high-school students received hands-on insight into higher education and careers in information technology and engineering thanks in part to more than 20 business and community partners.

The partners were presenters at this spring’s “iFair,” hosted by Harley-Davidson Motor Company and MPS’ Washington High School of Information Technology. Washington IT students’ also presented, and gave demonstrations in technology, engineering and robotics.

As the U.S. needs to graduate 400,000 students with four-year degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to meet demand – but is only graduating around 265,000, according to STEM curriculum provider Project Lead the Way. Milwaukee Public Schools utilizes Project Lead the Way curriculum in more than 30 schools – including Washington High School of IT – to help fill that gap.

Wisconsin schools and businesses are building in the area of STEM from every level of education. Time Warner Cable is one of the local companies that has taken on a STEM initiative as well. Recently, Time Warner Cable’s philanthropic initiative Connect a Million Minds (CAMM) commemorated its third-year anniversary and met 500,000 minds pledged – a critical milestone in its campaign to help connect one million young people to hands-on learning opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

At Marquette University, Professor Andrew Williams, John P. Raynor Distinguished Chair in Electrical and Computer Engineering is bringing his innovative experience in robotics to the university. Williams was recently honored as one of 50 most important African Americans in Technology. Williams joined MU in 2012, and he is the director of the Humanoid Engineering and Intelligent Robotics Lab.

Prior to coming to MU Williams was the Department Chair of Computer and Information Sciences at Spelman College where he also began the college’s first all female robotics team.

UW-Milwaukee and UW-Madison currently have a partnership with Johnson Controls where undergraduate engineering students have an opportunity to have hands on experience and education on innovative programs at Johnson Controls.

And for those who find a 4 year program out of reach straight from high school there is the Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) and schools like Bryant and Stratton that offer certifications, and technical degrees in programs that can offer a quicker path to a career and employment.