Justin Myers, assistant principal of Maconaquah Middle School, graduated from Purdue University in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in computer integrated manufacturing technology (CIMT). He began his career in the technology sector but soon realized that his job lacked the social interaction aspect of working with people that he enjoyed. He returned to Purdue to combine his tech talents with his people skills and graduated with a second bachelor’s degree in engineering/technology teacher education (ETTE).
By the spring of 2007, Myers was teaching engineering and technology education at Lafayette Jefferson High School. Nine years later, when a 40-year veteran of the Kokomo-area Maconaquah Middle School decided to retire from his assistant principal position, Myers submitted his resume for the position, touting his STEM skills and experience, and was hired from a pool of between 20 and 30 applicants to take on the role of assistant principal. Maconaquah Middle School Principal Craig Jernagan said the hiring committee of teachers and administrators was “impressed with Myers’ work experience in engineering and Project Lead the Way education and thought it would be a good fit for our STEM focus.”
We recently contacted Myers by email to see what role PLTW plays in his teaching career.
Question: When did you know you wanted to become a teacher? What made you decide?
Myers: I first graduated from Purdue in 2003. After time in industry, I realized I needed a new career direction. I am a “people” person and I was searching for an opportunity to apply what I had learned in CIMT, while interacting at a greater level with humans rather than machines. A dear friend suggested I look into becoming a teacher. Polytechnic counselors were able to draft a plan of study that would transition me into the classroom in three semesters. By the spring of 2007, I was teaching engineering and technology education at Lafayette Jefferson High School. The rest is history!
Question: Did your education in Purdue Polytechnic (then Purdue’s College of Technology) affect your decision to become a PLTW teacher?
Myers: My experience in the teacher education program at Purdue Polytechnic allowed me to gain PLTW certification in Introduction to Engineering Design, Civil Engineering and Architecture, and Engineering Design and Development. My degree in CIMT and ETTE coupled with the PLTW certifications allowed me to become very marketable to school districts.
Question: Looking back at your own high school experience, does it affect how you approach your job? How so?
Myers: As a high school student, I was heavily involved in classes that were once known as “industrial arts.” Much like today’s engineering and technology classes, these classes involved a daily hands-on component and project-based learning. When I was a teacher, whether I was teaching automotive, manufacturing, construction or engineering, I made it a focus to have a strong hands-on component in every lesson. That practice is a product of my upbringing outside of school, my education in K-12, and my post-secondary experiences at Purdue. As an administrator in my second year at Maconaquah Middle School, an Indiana Department of Education STEM-certified school, we strive to integrate those practices across every discipline that is not traditionally considered hands-on, including math, English/language arts, and social studies.
Question: What do your students think of you?
Myers: While in the classroom, my students saw me as quirky and fun, but with very high expectations. We sang while working in the shop, among other activities, to make the experience fun. I have countless former students who’ve connected with me on social media after graduating and some who’ve sought me out and sent hand-written letters thanking me for being their teacher. This is, by far, the most rewarding part of being an educator.
Question: What advice would you give to your 15-year-old self?
Myers: I would tell my 15-year-old-self to be more in tune with where my heart lies. I worked hard to get great grades all through school, including college. When it came time to enter the workforce, I quickly found what I was doing for a living, although lucrative, was not fulfilling my desire to positively impact others’ lives. Although reflection, introspection, and understanding intrinsic motivation might not align with the priorities of a 15-year-old, I believe I should have paid much more attention to what motivated me at an earlier age.
Question: What advice would you give to current high school students who don’t have an interest in STEM or don’t think they’re good at STEM?
Myers: I would help lead them to the understanding that STEM is interwoven into every aspect of life by allowing them an opportunity to explore their own interests and tying it back to STEM concepts. I believe it is important we show students the value of possessing strong STEM-related knowledge and skills as it relates to their desired career path.
Question: What have been your favorite experiences with PLTW?
I had two extraordinary experiences related to my time teaching PLTW Aerospace Engineering. Nine other teachers and I held our summer training at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio, which is the home of the Wright brothers. We visited Wright Patterson Air Force Base and the National Museum of the United States Air Force, and toured the Wright brothers’ mansion, Hawthorn Hill, with Stephen Wright, the curator of the home and great grand-nephew of Orville and Wilbur Wright.
I also experienced a wonderful community relationship over a nine-year period with Purdue Aviation LLC, formerly Lafayette Aviation, where our aeronautical engineering students flew planes with certified flight instructors on a "discovery flight." This experience led to as many as seven students to enroll in either professional flight, aviation maintenance, aeronautical engineering or astronautical engineering at Purdue University.
Question: Do you recommend other teachers become involved with PLTW?
I would absolutely recommend teachers become involved with PLTW. The support structures that are in place in the PLTW community are second to none. The forums in the Canvas learning management system allow teachers to share best practices and innovative approaches to teaching lessons. The curriculum is fun to teach and even more fun to learn from a student’s perspective.