Not just high school: PTECH gives students a pathway to college and careers in STEM, health sciences

Brock McWherter

Brock McWherter

Brock McWherter had a chance to put his engineering skills to the test at Delta Engineers, and landed a part-time job there after completing a six-week internship. Paige Gill had a chance to polish her programming skills at an internship with BAE Systems, and is looking forward to more applied learning experiences in computer technology.

In the classroom, they’re like their fellow SUNY Broome STEM or Health Studies majors: focused on their work, excited about their fields and eager to pursue the experiences that will one day land them a great career.

What their classmates may not realize: They’re actually high school students, part of the very first cohort of the Pathways in Technology Early College High School program, or PTECH.

Funded by grants, PTECH began four years ago as a collaboration between SUNY Broome, Broome-Tioga BOCES, area school districts and a half-dozen industry partners. The end goal: Provide a career pathway for first-generation, economically disadvantaged students, with a focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and Health Studies.

“I come from a low-income family, so paying for college is all on me. So when I saw the opportunity to have part of it paid for, I jumped on it,” explained Manuela DiLuzio, a Harpursville High School senior majoring in Health Studies.

Manuela DiLuzio

Manuela DiLuzio

The six-year program supports students in earning both their high school diploma and their Associate’s degree in health science, computer technology or one of several engineering technology options. Students are also supported by industry partners, who provide mentorship, guidance and workplace learning during those six years.

Students apply for the program through their guidance counselor, and 50 are selected each year. The summer before their freshman year of high school, they attend the Summer Institute, which includes visits to area employers, hands-on activities, lectures and workshops. As high school freshmen, they begin earning college credit via SUNY Broome’s Fast Forward program, starting with a single college-level class and choosing their pathway at the end of their ninth grade year.

“At a standard high school, you can get some college courses under your belt as a junior and a senior. But in a PTECH program, you’re getting college coursework under your belt but you’re doing projects that might make a connection with a local politician or a VP at Delta Engineers. You don’t have the opportunity in every high school,” explained Matt Sheehan, assistant principal for BOCES’ Center for Career and Technical Excellence and a co-leader for PTECH. “That’s what PTECH provides for these students – authentic learning experiences through project-based learning that no one else gets.”

The SUNY Broome curriculum makes sure the students are college-ready, noted SUNY Broome Outreach chairwoman Katie Bucci. At the end of the six-year program, they’re career-ready, too, an invaluable addition to their Associate’s degree – all at no cost to their families.

The students are in the right programs to get jobs, noted SUNY Broome Interim Associate Vice President and Dean of STEM Ken Mansfield. It’s something that the students appreciate. Paige Gill compared the program to a “six-year job interview.”

“You’re getting two years of free college. How can you pass that up?” said Gill, a Computer Technology major and a senior at Chenango Valley. “But it’s not about the free college. It’s about the experience.”

Up to the challenge 

Paige Gill

Paige Gill

Brock, Paige and Manuela were among the very first class of PTECH students; of that initial class of 50, 30 have remained with the program and are enrolled in classes at SUNY Broome. Through the Early College program, they attend the same on-campus classes as traditional college students, and also have access to the same support services such as Math Lab.

DiLuzio visits Math Lab herself, as she pursues classroom success. She’s currently taking classes in Women’s Health, Anatomy and Physiology, Math and English, and focuses much of her time and attention on her schoolwork.

To succeed in PTECH, students need to be self-motivated and have the drive to succeed, she counseled. She and other PTECH students point out that the experience is different from that of a typical high school in regard to the level of work and the expectations of students.

There’s no fooling around and focus is a must, noted McWherter, of Harpursville High School. But there are perks, too.

“You’re so used to having a stricter set of rules in high school. Here, you get more freedom; you’re trusted as an adult,” Gill reflected.

Some students, such as Manuela and Brock, knew their future major when they joined PTECH. DiLuzio had her eye on a healthcare career; pediatric oncology initially interested her, although she’s now exploring the possibilities of holistic care. McWherter is deeply drawn to engineering and talks enthusiastically about his classes, particularly Civil Engineering with Professor Joe DeAngelo.

“It’s awesome! He’s doing a great job. You can take something that seems so simple and it’s so complex and so valuable,” he said.

Why civil engineering? “I like design, being creative, being able to design something,” he explained. “I want something where I can be in both the office and the field, which is why I took civil engineering.”

Students explore the possibilities in all of PTECH’s paths and declare their major at the end of their ninth grade year. Gill, who had originally considered an engineering path, found that she really enjoyed programming and instead opted for computer technology, which she has enjoyed ever since. She hopes to one day design video games, she said.

Looking ahead, all three students are considering Binghamton University as a transfer school – and all would recommend the program to their peers.

“It’s different from high school completely. It gives us a head start,” McWherter said. “With this program, I’m on the college campus. I’m learning from college professors. It’s a completely awesome experience.”

“I’ve always been an overachiever and hard on myself,” DiLuzio reflected. “Living in poverty, I’ve always wanted to better myself and my family. This has helped give me the skills so I can properly do so.”