Technical Education With Certification
Lisa Lance posted on December 20, 2016 |
How one Colorado high school program is achieving professional results.

The Engineering Technologies Department at Cherokee Trail High School in Aurora, Colo., strives to prepare students for careers in fields such as engineering, architecture, robotics and alternative energy, “as well as high-tech careers that have not yet been invented,” according to the school’s website.

Paul Clinton and Ben Nuebel, Engineering Technologies teachers at the school, are achieving tremendous results in the classroom as their students not only learn basic technology skills, but also achieve professional SOLIDWORKS certification before graduation.



 From left to right: Paul Clinton and Ben Nuebel. (Image courtesy of Cherokee Trail High School.)

Users since 2003, Clinton and Nuebel began offering SOLIDWORKS certifications to their students in 2008 after learning about the software company's program for educational institutions from their local vendor. While the two teachers create their own curriculums for classroom use, they also incorporate tutorials created by and projects housed within the software.

A curriculum example from the school’s Engineering Design course. (Image courtesy of Cherokee Trail High School.)
A curriculum example from the school’s Engineering Design course. (Image courtesy of Cherokee Trail High School.)

Beginning With Basics

Cherokee Trail's Engineering Technologies Department offers several courses for grades 9 through 12, including CAD, Architectural Design, Engineering Design, Robotic Technologies, Manufacturing Production Design and others. Classes range in size from 24 to 32 students.

Clinton said new students start out on very basic projects. “Just understanding how to create a basic sketch, understanding 2D geometry, that seems to be where the biggest struggle is,” he said.

While some assignments require students to create a specified shape using certain features within the software, others offer students more individual freedom to design on their own. “The first project I do in the introductory class is a toy design project, where they will design a toy for a small child, just so they can create on their own without being spoon fed from me,” said Clinton.

He thinks the students enjoy the freedom. “It's more open ended,” he said. “They’re in charge. It’s their design that, in the end, will be evaluated.”

In Nuebel's Engineering Design class, students learn to use the software in the context of a project, such as the Technology Student Association (TSA) Flight Endurance Event, which requires participants to analyze flight principles using a rubber band–powered model aircraft. The students design and build balsa wood airplanes.

“Not only do they have to design it, but they have to design it so it can actually be made in our Fab Lab on our laser,” said Nuebel. “They also use some of the advanced SOLIDWORKS features like flow analysis so they can see how well their plane is going to work beforehand, get an idea if they have it set up right and calculate the pressure underneath the wings.”
Flow simulation over the design of a plane by Cherokee Trail 10th grader Evan Veatch. (Image courtesy of Cherokee Trail High School.)
Flow simulation over the design of a plane by Cherokee Trail 10th grader Evan Veatch. (Image courtesy of Cherokee Trail High School.)

Clinton and Nuebel are both TSA advisors and Fab Lab instructors. Nuebel said a unique feature of Cherokee Trail's program is the “build” portion of the projects. “Not only do they do they learn the design aspect, but then they take it to the Fab Lab and build it with the digital fabrication tools we have here.”

Their students also gain real-world experience through projects like the NASA Hunch Program. “High school students work on those projects with the goal in mind to get their projects produced and sent up to the International Space Station,” said Nuebel.

Certification Goals

Many students trying to achieve SOLIDWORKS Academic certification can gain access to the software and training material for free, through their school, or at a reduced price independently. The SOLIDWORKS Academic Certification Program offers the following certifications:

  • CSWA (Certified SOLIDWORKS Associate)—Academic: Intended for students with a minimum of six to nine months of experience of the software and basic knowledge of engineering and fundamentals and practices
  • CSWP (Certified SOLIDWORKS Professional)—Academic: Intended for students with a minimum of one to two years of experience with the software and advanced knowledge of engineering practices
  • CSDA (Certified Sustainable Design Associate): Demonstrates an understanding of the principles of environmental assessment and sustainable design
  • CSWSA—FEA (Certified SOLIDWORKS Simulation Associate—Finite Element Analysis): Indicates a foundation in apprentice knowledge of demonstrating an understanding in the principles of stress analysis and the finite element method

Schools designated as SOLIDWORKS Academic Certification Providers that maintain a current software subscription can also administer the exams to students for free.

“There is no difference between these tests and the non-academic versions,” said Nuebel. “When our students receive their certificates, they look just the same as the certificate a professional taking the test would get.”

In addition to the CSWA and CSWP, Cherokee Trail students have taken the CSWP advanced topic exams and CSWE (Certified SOLIDWORKS Expert) exam. Nuebel said students who want to get to the CSWE must take them in this order.

Since 2008, when the teachers began offering certification courses for the software, 97 students have passed the CSWA, six have passed the CSWP and two have passed the CSWE.

“The first [student] we had pass the CSWE was the first high school student in the country to pass that level of certification,” said Clinton, adding the student now attends the California Institute of Technology.

Students who earn certification have a variety of opportunities after high school. Some Cherokee Trail students go on to study engineering in college, and others take a vocational path. And some students are able to find jobs while enrolled in college because of the certifications they earned while in high school.

Building Skills

Advancements in technology require the teachers to learn new skills continually as well. In order to offer certification to their students, Clinton and Nuebel had to first earn certification themselves. Both did so in 2007.

“The real interesting thing is the amount of stuff that we teach now that was not covered anywhere in any of our college education,” said Nuebel, who has been teaching for 14 years. “We had no 3D CAD or 3D printers or CNC mills when we were in college. That's all stuff we've had to pick up along the way just to stay current and make sure our students have the very best opportunities to see industry-level software and equipment.”

Twenty years ago, Clinton went to college to become an industrial technology teacher. Although technology has advanced, in a way, the applications have come full circle. “When I first got into teaching, it was moving toward modules where kids explored different things and they weren’t in an old-school shop setting. It was more exploratory—they'd study pneumatics and manufacturing and production—and now it’s moved toward design and build,” he said. “We may not be using wood shop tools, but we’re using tools to create products, which is what shop was back in the day.”

Clinton said it's important for students to work with their hands. “We're in a suburban area, and not a lot of these kids have used a saw…they don't know what a Phillips screwdriver is,” he explained. “It's really good for these kids to be able to utilize tools and understand how things are put together. They take for granted how products are produced.”
An Engineering Technologies classroom at Cherokee Trail High School in Aurora, Colo. (Image courtesy of Cherokee Trail High School.)
An Engineering Technologies classroom at Cherokee Trail High School in Aurora, Colo. (Image courtesy of Cherokee Trail High School.)

What's next for their students? The two teachers will continue to push the education envelope. They've been offering the CSWA test at the end of the second-year course, Engineering Design, but this year they’re going to change that and offer the CSWA as the second semester final in the CAD course, which is the introductory class.

“We're stepping up the game and trying to get the kids certified earlier in their high school career so they can pursue more advanced certifications as they go through high school,” said Clinton.

To learn more about SOLIDWORKS education programs, follow this link. If you are a researcher looking for access to SOLIDWORKS, click here.

SOLIDWORKS has sponsored this post. It has provided no editorial input. For more information, go to

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