Governor’s School taps Horry school district for engineering pilot program

vgrooms@thesunnews.comDecember 29, 2012 

Horry County Schools has been tapped by the S.C. Governor’s School for Science & Mathematics to launch a program next fall where students will be able to graduate high school with a full year of college engineering credits under their belts.

HCS is one of eight pilot districts that were selected from across South Carolina for the Accelerate program, which is designed to develop the state’s future engineers. The Governor’s School will select 50 rising 10th-graders statewide through an application process, and HCS could have up to eight students in the program, said Cindy Ambrose, HCS chief academic officer.

“The really good news for us is our students would get to participate but would get to stay in Horry County with their families and not have to relocate to a residential high school,” like the Governor’s School, which is in Hartsville, Ambrose said. “We’re also really excited because [Governor’s School] students have a great record for scholarships.”

Zaria O’Bryant, program administrator for Accelerate, said the program was conceived after colleges and engineering leaders in the state expressed a desire for an incubator of sorts that would nurture engineers who are vested in South Carolina. Colleges want help keeping students enrolled in engineering programs, she said, while businesses are eager for engineering graduates to remain in the state. She said many students don’t understand what engineering entails or how rigorous the work can be, and a program such as Accelerate may prevent them from leaving the field.

“The college transition is often more than a student anticipates,” O’Bryant said. “If we can start students [with engineering courses] in high school, let them work really hard while in that nurturing environment and get them over the freshman hurdle, they can start college as a sophomore and are more likely to want to stay.”

The University of South Carolina, Clemson University, The Citadel and S.C. State University are partners in the program. O’Bryant said students who meet the requirements of a high B average, at least across the engineering courses, will be admitted to any of these universities and guaranteed sophomore standing.

Ambrose said Accelerate will require few district resources and will be a blended learning program, with the majority of courses held online. Its home will be at the Academy for the Arts, Science and Technology in Myrtle Beach, alongside the district’s STEM -- Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics -- program, and Ambrose said it won’t interfere with the school’s pre-engineering major.

Information sessions about Accelerate will begin in January. Students will apply online, and first applications are due Feb. 1. O’Bryant said those will include basic academic information and teacher evaluations, and semi-finalists will be chosen for an interview and essay session in late February.

“We want to have selections made by spring break because we have a lot of work to do,” said O’Bryant, who said a summer boot camp is just one activity that lies ahead for Accelerate students. “We want them to jump right in and get immersed in hands-on, integrated, engineering projects. They’ll get started on a project - a real issue in the world – that they will work with through the year.”

O’Bryant said there were several reasons the Governor’s School chose HCS for its pilot program, including the district’s high SAT scores, which are above the national average in math, and its Advanced Placement results.

“Horry County is well-known for its innovative practices in maintaining and improving student achievement,” O’Bryant said. “They are also really far ahead of the pack with STEM, and that’s what this focuses on.”

Contact VICKI GROOMS at 443-2401 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_VickiGrooms.

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