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When most students enter Engineering 1 at iSchool High STEM in Lewisville, only a handful of them have ever held a screw driver. By the time the semester is in full swing, engineering teacher Gary Wilhelmi has fixed this while also getting them ready to work on the big projects that will be in their future.

“As a country we need to restart the innovation engine that gave us the leads we have. I teach students the difference between evolutionary and revolutionary ideas,” said Mr. Wilhelmi.

Before Mr. Wilhelmi joined the staff at ResponsiveEd’s iSchool STEM campus he worked as an engineer for McDonell Aircraft, ITT Electro-Optical Products Division, Frito- Lay, Inc. and Idea Connection Systems, Inc. He knows the challenges employers face with finding qualified employees. In his classroom he emphasizes hands-on-learning because he believes it gives students an opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge.

“The kids I used to recruit out of college didn’t know how to work in teams, didn’t know how to think or solve problems. They knew how to get answers from the back of the book, but they were not equipped. My iSchool students are more equipped now than the kids I would hire out of college,” he said.

Mr. Wilhelmi believes students should leave his class with a way to attack problems they encounter in the real world.

“All of them will have problems to solve in their careers, whether they go into engineering or not. They will all have to work with people and be able to communicate effectively. That is what they are learning now,” said Mr. Wilhelmi.

iSchool High STEM students learn by working on cross-curricular projects. Through this project-based approach, students learn to process ideas across different disciplines and problem-solve rather than testing memorized formulas.

Currently, Mr. Wilhelmi’s freshmen are working on building children’s play houses that will be donated to shelters for abuse victims in the local area. The students started by creating a plan in calculus and are now putting that plan into action in their engineering class.

Mr. Wilhelmi received his bachelors and masters degrees in Electrical Engineering from Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. He is also the co-author of The Invisible Element: A Practical Guide for the Human Dynamics of Innovation.

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