Westie to compete nationally with after-school STEM program
Westie to compete nationally with after-school STEM program
Posted on 04/05/2016
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WEST HAVEN, April 5, 2016 — Ian Cooke’s dream job in architecture or civil engineering is still in the distant future, but you would think he’s already working in the fields if you didn’t know he was a West Haven High School student.

The WHHS sophomore can rattle off computer programs he used in his latest project, explain flooding prevention methods, describe how recent site visits in New Haven influenced his work, and detail designs he collaborated on with peers. He’s learned all this and gotten a jump start on his future career through the ACE Mentor Program of America, a group WHHS has partnered with since 2013.

And now his work, along with the work of his ACE teammates, is being recognized on a national level.

Their revitalization and flooding mitigation design for the River Street area of New Haven is one of nine ACE projects from across the country accepted into the Construction Industry Round Table-ACE Design Competition for 2016 in Washington, D.C., and is in the top three of the contest’s “Shoreline Design” category. Presentations at the competition take place at the end of the month.

“I was really happy to find out we were chosen for nationals,” said Cooke, who heard about the extracurricular activity with ACE this fall in a WHHS STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) class. “I had joined because I wanted the challenge and I liked that they met weekly because I knew I would learn a lot.”

ACE—which stands for architecture, construction and engineering—is a nationwide program that aims to inspire students to pursue careers in those fields and provides mentors at local firms. It’s also considered one of the top mentoring initiatives in the country.

WHHS students and other local high-schoolers who sign up meet weekly after school at local architecture offices and partner with industry professionals for a design project. The program is free of charge to students and supported by local firms.

Cooke said his group’s goal all year was to be a part of the national competition and that they investigated multiple projects before pitching ideas to team members and choosing to study the River Street area of New Haven.

“Our big focus was to make the land resilient when it comes to storms and flooding, but we also decided to incorporate things that would draw people to the area so that we could add to the project,” Cooke explained. “Plus, we had to make everything realistic in terms of the price range, heights on buildings, and different features that we added.”

Cooke and his team members created a design that raised and lowered certain areas of the parcel to control any flooding that occurred, proposed adding a marsh to contain more water from potential flooding, and incorporated buildings that could better withstand flooding and storms. To encourage more people to visit the area, they included an amphitheater and boardwalk, as well as a pedestrian bridge, and improved an existing ball field. All of the designs and the thought process behind each were put on large posters that will be used in the national presentation.

“We had homework and researched different kinds of bridges and other areas that used techniques to protect against flooding. We presented to our mentors along the way, and visited the area in New Haven. We brought in our own interests for the design, too,” Cooke said, explaining that his inspiration for the New Haven walkway came from West Haven’s Savin Rock boardwalk and that he and a fellow team member wanted the ball field improved because they both play soccer.

“Ian and his entire ACE team did an outstanding job recognizing and assessing a real-world concern that affects the local New Haven community and problem-solving a creative and realistic solution based on their findings,” said Katy Lynch, chair of the ACE New Haven Advisory Board and a project engineer with Langan, an engineering and environmental services firm. “The entire ACE New Haven Chapter and ACE Connecticut affiliate are incredibly proud of all the students’ achievements and look forward to the success of the team not only in Washington, D.C., but also in their future endeavors in the architecture, construction and engineering fields.”

Cooke said he has already decided to be a part of ACE again next year. And though he’s only a sophomore, he’s already a walking advertisement for the WHHS STEM program.

Last year as a freshman, he took Introduction to Engineering at WHHS and participated in the Engineering Challenge Program for the 21st Century, a program held on four Saturdays at Gateway Community College and WHHS that included hands-on teamwork projects.

This year, he’s taking Civil Engineering and Architecture at WHHS and is in the Manufacturing Dual-Enrollment Program, which allows participating students to earn both WHHS and Gateway Community College credits and brings students to Gateway for classes and work on high-tech equipment.

All WHHS engineering courses use a curriculum from a national program called “Project Lead the Way” and give students a chance to earn college credit through a test at the end of each course.

WHHS STEM teacher Michael Barraco and WHHS STEM and Technology Education Department Head Eric Rice said they could tell from the start that Cooke had a knack for STEM-related studies.

“We are very proud of Ian's accomplishments and his eagerness to take advantage of some of the great STEM Project Lead the Way courses offered at West Haven High School and many of our new supplemental after-school programming opportunities,” Rice said. “The amazing thing is he is just a sophomore. Our students are lucky they can get involved in these programs and classes as soon as they start at WHHS."  

Cooke is also registered for the WHHS Principles of Engineering class for next year, and is already researching engineering colleges. His involvement with ACE even gives him the chance to apply for an ACE college scholarship, which WHHS grad Jose Chankuk earned in 2014 for his involvement with the organization.

Barraco said WHHS students have participated in the ACE program every year since WHHS began partnering with the New Haven chapter of the group.

“That’s a testament to the fact that our STEM program is growing and improving and that kids are enjoying it, and that we have a very strong partnership with ACE,” Barraco added. “It’s a great extension of what they’re learning in class.”