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Building the future: how El Camino students are defining the next generation of STEM professionals

Building the future: how El Camino students are defining the next generation of STEM professionals

For the soon-to-be graduates of El Camino Fundamental High School’s Eagle Polytechnic Institute (EPI), their futures are revving up just like the vehicles being built in their advanced engineering class. In their bustling classroom, students welded, polished and assembled their individual and team projects in a jovial and hardworking manner.

El Camino’s EPI program is a series of courses that cultivate students’ research, communication, presentation and project development skills, specifically in the fields of architecture, manufacturing, engineering and electronics.

“We try to tailor the program, either [the students] are going to be an engineer of some kind, or they’re going to be in the building trades of some kind,” said EPI teacher Ryan Tompkins. “We want to make sure that we pace the classes and set the level of rigor so that they can have a flawless transition into college or a career out of high school.”

The students enrolled in EPI learn the foundational knowledge of working in these disciplines and can earn college credit along the way. Two EPI engineering classes can transfer to the California State University (CSU), Sacramento’s Accelerated College Entrance (ACE) program and any CSU. In addition, EPI’s welding class gives students college credit for Sierra College’s beginning welding course.

Twelfth-grade student Preston Cooper is an aspiring civil engineer who plans to enroll in American River College upon graduation, with hopes to eventually transfer to a CSU. Cooper details how his post-secondary plans have been made more achievable through the college-transferable courses he has completed through EPI and the ACE program.

“The credits I get and choosing this path in high school helps a lot,” said Cooper. “I know that I found what I want to do in my life because of this course.”

Similarly, 12th-grade student Kate Ainley-Zoll expressed that she has benefitted from experiencing a diverse range of STEM career opportunities through this program. With dreams of becoming an environmental engineer or Disney Imagineer, Ainley-Zoll reflects on how EPI has connected her and her peers to collegiate and professional organizations.

“I went on one field trip, I believe the name was Rogers Engineering firm. We went to tour the firm, and it was really great to see what they did there. After meeting with the employees, I got to see how diverse the STEM field is,” said Ainley-Zoll.

The connections and experiences created through EPI are equally as important as the foundational knowledge and skills that students cultivate in this course. College field trips, guest speakers and construction firm tours are built into the framework of this course to give students the network they need to land potential careers after school.

“We usually have one field trip a month to a firm or college, just to help us see which colleges we like and which firms we might want to work for,” said Cooper.

Not only are EPI students well-connected with and well-suited to attend colleges like CSU, Sacramento, but they are also building a relationship with Arcade Fundamental Middle School to fuel an interest in STEM in younger students. To celebrate the new relationship between these school programs, EPI and Arcade toured Arcade’s construction site in December 2023.

El Camino’s EPI students are building their own bright futures and establishing their presence in the STEM field as the next generation of young professionals. Learn more about the program on El Camino’s EPI webpage.