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Hoover High School’s Engineering Academy: Empowering Students, Transforming Communities

HHS Engineering Academy photo

(Hoover, Alabama) -  The Engineering Academy at Hoover High School (HHS) stands as a beacon of innovation and social responsibility, empowering students to excel in STEM fields while making a tangible impact on their community. 

At the heart of the Academy's senior curriculum lies the Capstone of Engineering and Technology course, a transformative experience where students apply engineering design processes to address real-life challenges facing people with disabilities. Among other products, the students developed functional prototypes of devices such as:

  • Self-leveling wheelchair seat so that people with extreme disabilities can control their wheelchairs on slopes.

  • Wheelchair training device that would help children get the necessary skills for their insurance to pay for a power wheelchair. 

  • Vibrating pen that would aid Parkinson's patients with tremors to write legibly.

  • Ride-on car to help young children with disabilities.

The impact of these projects extends far beyond the classroom as their functional prototypes are put to use locally. Organizations in the Birmingham area serving individuals with disabilities, including the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services, The Bell Center, and United Ability, benefit from the innovative solutions crafted by HHS’s Engineering Academy students. 

Martin Ledvina, an instructor of the Engineering Academy, says the students are proud to apply STEM and engineering design tools to make a difference in the lives of community members with disabilities by improving their quality of life and feeling of inclusion.

Ledvina said, "This class is very different from any other class at our high school. The students use what they have learned in the past three years, combined with modern tools like design thinking and agile project management. They create their own "tech startups" and develop a product to satisfy a real need for an outside client.”

Ledvina says he’s proud to see the students excited about their projects, researching, designing, building prototypes, and improving them based on the client's feedback.

“For example, someone testing a vibrating pen to help people with tremors testified: "I have not been able to write like this for ten years!" Similarly, our students' creations are often used in places such as United Ability or The Bell Center, which serve people with disabilities,” said Ledvina.

With a rigorous four-year college prep curriculum emphasizing math, science, and engineering, the Academy fosters not only academic excellence but also a profound sense of responsibility and social consciousness among its students.

Engineering Academy senior Bec Jones expresses joy in contributing to meaningful projects. 

"It’s been so much fun. In all the previous years we’ve learned several different skills related to different fields of engineering, but this senior year Capstone project has by far been my favorite just because we’ve been able to take all of those skills and pour them all into one project. It’s really fun to see all of these skills used in a good way that can help people. My main goal is to help people through engineering, and that’s why I love it so much. I love the idea of making things; creating a singular product that could go on to help people,” said Jones.

Engineering Academy student Matthew Eligwe underscores the significance of independence enabled by these innovations. 

"For people who are disabled or bound to a wheelchair, the ability for them to become more independent in everyday life to be able to perform at a function that most people are not able to do over the course of the day is really great,” said Eligwe.

Engineering Academy instructor, LaShawnda J. Harris, said, "Our Capstone class, and the Engineering Academy program overall, exposes our students to some of the content they will see in college. Having this exposure gives our students the confidence to excel.  Students who have graduated from our program often contact us to let us know how much they appreciate what they’ve learned and how well they were prepared for their college engineering courses.”

The Engineering Academy's holistic approach not only prepares students for the rigors of higher education but also instills a sense of purpose and social responsibility. By leveraging STEM and engineering principles, students drive meaningful change, fostering inclusivity and empowerment within their community.