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A perfect partnership for CTE success

Exciting times ahead as Sussex County Technical School rolls out Robotics & Mechatronics program with the help of Pitsco

Published February 9, 2024
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Sussex County Technical School in Sparta, New Jersey, is on a mission to inspire a new generation of engineers and technicians. The Grades 9-12 vocational school expanded its STEM offering in 2021 with the launch of a pioneering new Robotics & Mechatronics program – and it hasn’t looked back since.

Spearheaded by CTE (Career Technical Education) teacher Wilson Ortiz, the course is a blend of mechanical engineering and design, electricity and electronics, programming and coding, and their combined applications. “This program was designed to introduce students to the fast-growing and in-demand field of computerized and automated mechanisms that is revolutionizing and improving today’s world,” explains Ortiz.

IN DEMAND

Despite only being introduced a couple of years ago, it has already become one of the school’s most popular and successful programs. Ortiz, who built the four-year-long course from scratch, says there’s even a waitlist for the ninth- and 10th-grade class. And it’s easy to see why the program has been such a hit. “Our academic and CTE curricula offer our students concurrent high school and college credits, specialized training, and industry-valued credentials. This combination leads to higher-wage jobs upon graduation and sets our students apart from the competition.”

Yet, designing a Robotics & Mechatronics program from the ground up hasn’t been smooth sailing, with funding and equipment shortages among the many challenges. Sussex Tech, which has around 700 students, doesn’t receive typical funding like a comprehensive high school. As a result, the program’s primary source of financial support comes from the district’s yearly budget. It applies for Perkins V funding whenever possible, but those funds need to be shared with other CTE programs of study within the district.

What’s more, the school receives very few donations of tools and equipment from community shareholders and local partner companies. So, when it came to sourcing reliable educational equipment to support the new program, Ortiz had his work cut out. After extensive research, he concluded that Pitsco Education’s hands-on, STEM-focused products were exactly what he was looking for.

“Pitsco has supplied my classroom and shop for three years with innovative and engaging kits, equipment, and activities that put the power of STEM learning into students’ hands and minds,” he explains. “These materials bring together student-centered, standards-based activities with hands-on projects that develop critical-thinking and collaboration skills.”

REAL-WORLD SKILLS

Ortiz, who is now in his third year at Sussex Tech, says he’s already seen the positive impact the Robotics & Mechatronics program is having on students’ education. With the support of Pitsco’s tools and professional development, pupils can learn about current trends and needs in the industry. They also get the opportunity to acquire real-world soft and hard skills related to the field.

But the benefits don’t stop there. “Since our program is a combination of fields and subfields, it provides students with multiple opportunities and options in fields and subfields of engineering and technology to work in and/or continue their education.” Plus, it prepares learners with better possibilities to obtain a well-paid job in engineering or technology after they graduate.

While the new program has undoubtedly been a success, Sussex Tech doesn’t intend to sit back and rest on its laurels anytime soon. Ortiz is already planning to grow the Robotics & Mechatronics course further by certifying students on more nationally verified training and industry-valued credentials. He also intends to participate in more competitions, partner with local companies, and equip the shop with multiple trainers and tools to simulate a real workplace environment.

With such ambitious and exciting plans afoot, it seems the STEM students at Sussex County Technical School have a lot to look forward to. And, as Ortiz himself says, it’s all about them after all!


Read all articles in our full publication, Hands-On Heroes: CTE Stories of Innovation and Impact.

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