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Helmut Schmidt, Published November 24 2012

Making real-world connections

MOORHEAD – Sam Wheeldon hopes that by letting students handle the high-tech switches he helps build, he can turn students on to careers in engineering, science or the tech sector.

Wheeldon was at Horizon Middle School last week, letting eighth-graders handle and eyeball circuit boards crammed with electronic switches, made by his employer, John Deere Electronic Solutions (also known as Phoenix International).

Wheeldon spent 10 minutes in front of the class, describing how the boards worked for the combines, tractors, road graders and military trucks in which they were installed.

Then industrial technology teacher Jack Gunderson took back the class, demonstrating how he wanted the students to set up three more basic switches.

“I was always a little better when I could touch something,” Wheeldon said.

“For me, any time kids can see the theoretical stuff applied” it helps them relate what they’re learning to a career field, Wheeldon said.

Wheeldon is one of the first businesspeople this year to take part in the “K-12 Business Connection,” created by the Education Minnesota teachers union.

The initiative is designed to give businesspeople an idea of what is taught in classrooms, and give teachers and schools an idea of what businesses want students to know.

Businesses “need to see what’s going on here,” so both sides can be productive, said Mark Richardson of Education Minnesota. “We’re in this together.”

Wheeldon and Gunderson already have a strong connection. Wheeldon was Gunderson’s mentor for an internship at John Deere over the summer.

Gunderson said he hopes that having someone like Wheeldon in the classroom opens his eighth-graders’ eyes “to possibly a future.”

That connection may have been made for Kaylee Johnson-Pavlicek and Regan Steen.

“I liked it when he passed around the stuff,” she said. “Then you can understand what’s underneath.”

“He explained it really well,” Steen said, adding that he wants “to learn how to build computers.”

Wheeldon said John Deere also has its own program to get its employees into schools to encourage students to focus on the STEM disciplines: science, technology, engineering and math.

“We currently can’t get enough engineers and technical people,” Wheeldon said. “We need the best and the brightest.”

Superintendent Lynne Kovash likes the program’s emphasis on connecting careers with learning.

“We really want to connect the learning to the real world, so they can understand why they need math and why they need science,” she said. “It’s so important for our future.”

Education Minnesota is continuing the K-12 Business Connection program with a statewide blitz of businesspeople in the classroom in early December.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583