When Torrance High teacher Dana Hagen graduated from high school, he excelled in math and physics, so he decided to do what such students are supposed to do: He studied engineering in college - even though he had no idea what the job entailed.
It's the same leap of faith taken by countless engineering majors over the decades who, as high school students, performed well in those subject areas.
Now, Hagen - who went on to enjoy a long career in engineering before becoming a teacher a decade ago - offers a new class at Torrance High that aims to demystify the profession.
Called Principles of Engineering, the class merges math and physics with hands-on projects such as building solar-powered toy cars, miniature windmills and circuit boards.
"There are a good portion of students who are good with their hands but struggle with the math and science, and another good number who are good with the math and science but aren't hands-on," Hagen said. "This class brings them together."
Torrance High is the first school in the Torrance Unified School District to offer engineering courses. But their inclusion on the course menu is fast becoming the norm in the South Bay and beyond.
The popularity is exploding nationwide amid a movement in education to prepare more students for professions requiring expertise in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math. (The education world refers to these areas collectively as STEM.)
The course itself is prepackaged and offered by Project Lead the Way, a nonprofit provider of STEM-based curriculum that got its start in upstate New York in the mid-1990s.
In five years, the number of high schools using the engineering curriculum has more than doubled, to 2,700, with the biggest one-year jump happening this fall.
"There is a skills gap - a large number of jobs open that can't be filled because workers lack the skills to fill them," said Jennifer Cahill, director of communications for Project Lead the Way.
When it comes to high schools in the South Bay, Torrance High is actually sort of late to the party. The first Project Lead the Way engineering course was launched at the California Academy of Mathematics and Science in Carson in 2006. Since then, 10 other high schools in the South Bay and Harbor Area have followed suit.
High school students who take the engineering courses in the South Bay also receive concurrent credit at El Camino College.
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