From the time she was a middle school student, Aimee Paradis loved to build models. When vocational school was suggested as an option, Paradis followed up and enrolled in the website design program at Lehigh Career & Technical Institute in Schnecksville.
When that program didn’t click for her, she switched, entering Stephen Latanision’s pre-engineering and engineering technology program as a junior.
“When I got there, I loved it, especially 3-D modeling and learning how things are built – what goes into making a product,” Paradis said.
Today, the 19-year-old is in her second year at Lehigh Carbon Community College, studying mechanical engineering. She plans to attend Temple to earn her bachelor’s degree, ultimately working in machining and/or drafting.
Paradis is in good company, as students in Latanision’s course have gone on to study at Lafayette, Bloomsburg, Drexel and Penn State universities, among others, and to get jobs in all areas of the engineering field.
“This course gives high school students a chance to explore their interests and earn real-world experience,” Latanision said. “They learn on equipment they’ll use in college and on the job.
“They study safety, history of engineering, design process, communication and teamwork, electricity and electronics, manufacturing, assembly and fabrication, engineering systems, robotics and green energy and more.”
Nine high schools in the Greater Lehigh Valley send students to LCTI; this school year, 39 study with Latanision. His students work to earn college credits by completing engineering-related tasks and are excited to report back to him about the trainers they see on their college visits.
“We have expensive, state-of-the-art equipment, and the fact that LCTI has these college-level trainers is a real advantage to them,” he said.
In addition to learning basic and advanced engineering and manufacturing techniques, students work toward completing more than 150 distinct tasks that earn them college credits and often admission to top engineering schools.
Latanision takes pride in their accomplishments.
“These students leave [LCTI] with a depth of understanding and awareness of safety within the workplace that they can take anywhere,” he said. “Their knowledge of graphics [3-D modeling and software]; electrical knowledge [basic through advanced circuit analysis, reading schematics, the design process] all gives them vast knowledge to take out to their careers.”
Not only do Latanision’s students learn through doing in his classroom, through LCTI’s internship program, they find themselves out in the region, job shadowing, interning and working in co-op positions arranged through LCTI’s school-to-career coordinator Wendy Harris.
When senior students are ready, Harris helps them write and refine their resumes, complete necessary paperwork and review general skills for employment.
Students in her rotational internship program go through a selection process that includes an employer resume review and interview. In addition to LCTI, the Bethlehem Area Vocational Technical School and the Career Institute of Technology are involved, placing students at B. Braun, Lehigh Valley Plastics, Victaulic, Nestle Waters and other businesses.
“Students rotate through the various employers, getting a well-rounded view of what manufacturing career expectations are in the Lehigh Valley,” Harris said.
Students can participate in a one-to-three-day job shadow, which allows them to explore careers in their chosen areas, or internships, which are of short duration and mostly paid, or co-op job placements which often lead to a job offer — all invaluable experiences.
“Co-ops often end in employment post-graduation,” Harris said. “There is a demand in the Valley for these students. … Companies regularly look for our students.”
One of those businesses is Barry Isett & Associates, an Upper Macungie Township engineering and consulting firm, which supports the pre-engineering and engineering program.
“We rotate students through all our departments – civil, structural, mechanical, electrical and plumbing, municipal, environmental, code, survey and construction services – so they can develop an understanding of the variety of engineering and technical careers available,” said Francee Fuller, marketing manager at Barry Isett.
Isett engineers often speak at local career days and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) awareness programs, understanding that mentoring high school students helps maintain a pool of skilled engineers in the region.
“We are always on the lookout for bright, young talent,” she said.