Questions for Lakewood High’s Ben Lieberman
Benjamin Lieberman is the coordinator for Lakewood High School’s new STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics) Academy. He teaches Calculus, Pre-Calculus, Engineering, and Introduction to Engineering and Design. Following the announcement of UNEX Manufacturing’s engineering scholarship, we asked him about ways the school is identifying today’s problem solvers.
LN: How is Lakewood High preparing students engineering careers?
Ben: This is our first year that we started our engineering career path that is our new STEAM Academy. It’s a career path that includes three new courses. This year we offer the first course called Introduction to Engineering Design. Next year we’re going to be doing Principles of Engineering. The following year would be Engineering Design and Development. In this current course we’re teaching them all about drafting, the engineering design process—the steps the engineers take when designing a product—brainstorming to the actual delivery of the prototype. The projects along the way give them the feeling of a real engineering project.
Next year, they will be learning robotics as part of it and other engineering. They’ll be learning engineering principles from physics built into the course. So it’s an exciting time at Lakewood High School.
LN: How do you identify and excite prospective engineering talent?
Ben: We try to identify students who are capable of the rigor that’s required for the course. Engineering is heavy in math and science. If someone shows aptitude—even though the student may not be an honor student—and proves themselves to be someone capable of doing well in a math or science course, we accept them if they show interest in engineering.
In addition to identifying them, we have activities and competitions to excite them. Recently, we took them to NJIT (New Jersey Institute of Technology) where eight students participated in a three-part competition. They had to write an essay about environmentally friendly buildings. We chose to write about Lakewood high school, and how to make it more environmentally friendly. At the competition, students answered 80 multiple-choice questions—very difficult questions. And finally, they had to design something with limited supplies. They had to build something like the tallest possible tower to hold up a tennis ball with straws and paper clips.
Hopefully, we’ll get more students interested, particularly women because engineering in general, the STEAM field is trying to recruit more women. It’s primarily a male-dominated field right now.
Jeff: Why should a student’s parents and peers encourage an early aptitude for engineering and problem-solving?
Ben: Engineering, regardless of the kind of engineering—mechanical, electrical—all of those college degrees have a significantly higher starting salary than other fields out there. So somebody who enjoys math and science and wants a solid career, it’s something to think about.
LN: UNEX Manufacturing recently announced a $2,000 scholarship to a Lakewood student planning to study engineering in college. Why is this kind of local support so important?
Ben: It was very encouraging, and it would be great if other companies got wind of it and can help with that as well. We’re looking to provide opportunities for students to earn internships and possibly co-ops where they might be able to earn credits toward their high school diploma.
If there are other manufacturers in Lakewood who want to help, I think that would do great service to the school. Quite frankly I think it can help the industry as well. The field of engineering is very small, and it’s constantly looking for more people to be hired, and we’re constantly looking to encourage people to look into the field.