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Whatever Happened to Industrial Arts?

Michelle Whitaker and her team searched around the classroom. For this assignment they could use only the materials in the lab. They gathered seemingly unrelated objects and assembled them carefully. What had been a set of two-by-fours, a piece of foam, and an old Rollerblade became a prosthetic leg.

“We then raced each other around the classroom on our new legs,” Whitaker said. “Through this activity we discovered many of the considerations that must go into designing prosthetics in order to make them most effective and comfortable.”

Whitaker is a student in Brigham Young University’s Technology and Engineering Education (TEE) program. This program prepares students to teach in the field of technology and engineering with a hands-on innovative approach.

“It is so refreshing to work in a friendly, collaborative environment that is fully equipped with all the necessary tools and machinery,” Whitaker said.

Besides teaching biomedical engineering principles, TEE offers core classes in photography and videography, programming and animation, graphic design, woodworking and furniture design, robotics, electronics, drafting and 3-D modeling, and pre-engineering and applied physics. Students learn how to solve problems, think innovatively, and teach effectively.

The program has only four professors: Steve Shumway, Ronald Terry, Geoff Wright, and Kip Christensen. However, they work together to foster a very strong technology and engineering education program, and their students keep winning awards.

Each spring teams compete at the International Technology and Engineering Educators Association conference. BYU teams compete in every category and at times have won all of them: knowledge bowl, robotics, teaching, video communications, problem solving, and transportation systems. But in two areas the program’s teams really dominate. Out of the seven most recent contests, the BYU team has won first place six times for video communications and five times for teaching.

Teaching and preparing students for this type of award-winning performance is a passion for Shumway, known to his students as “Shum.” Having served as the department chair for 11 of the last 13 years, he wants to ensure a future full of capable students who understand technology and engineering concepts, including ways these concepts impact and influence society.

Shumway teaches electronics, robotics, and pre-
engineering, as well as the teaching methods/practicum classes. He also works with outreach programs to infuse engineering content into local elementary schools.


A significant goal of the United States public education agenda is to integrate the curriculum in STEM subjects to help students become technologically competitive. Workforce development and national security drive this initiative.

Given the national emphasis on STEM subjects, interest in TEE’s courses is high. The program offers two of the primary disciplines of STEM: technology and engineering. Students and future employers know these skills will be in demand indefinitely.

“Participation in engineering activities is a natural way to help students integrate technological skills with their math and science knowledge,” Shumway said. “The ability to integrate these skills is a valued ability in today’s technological society and is thus an integral part of the K–12 education system and one of the missions of the TEE program.”

Part of the legacy left by retiring faculty member Ronald Terry is the opportunity for students to participate in international experiences. Terry and Shumway pioneered partnership with MACILE (the Spanish equivalent of STEM) in the Dominican Republic. The acronym MACILE includes mathematics, sciences, engineering, and languages in Spanish. The partnership began when MACILE founder Claudina Vargas came to BYU as a visiting professor.

“She had started up a program to help students in the Dominican Republic who are bright and gifted,” Terry said. “She wanted to give them a chance to further their education. Students in the Dominican Republic sometimes just do the same things their parents did because they don’t realize the opportunities they have.”

In 2009 Terry and Shumway went to the Dominican Republic to teach technology classes in the MACILE program. Now each year eight TEE students go to the Dominican Republic to teach four five-week classes; they develop their own curriculum as well as teach it.


Always pushing the limits of technology, classes emphasize innovation principles, techniques, and evaluation. Professor Wright leads in this program component. His teaching and research include digital media, videography, graphics, programming, and photography.

Wright and his students mentor in an underwater robotics competition in local schools. For three years Utah Underwater Robotics has given students in public schools the opportunity to build tethered underwater robots. The robots compete in an underwater obstacle course, and the students explain the principles they learned with a poster. The youth learn about principles of buoyancy, fluid dynamics, pressure, robotics, material science, and circuitry. Approximately one thousand fourth-grade through ninth-grade students participate in this statewide competition.

With this available variety, the TEE major appeals to female and male students who like to design, create, and teach in disciplines related to technology and engineering.

“The TEE program is not only fun, it is an immersive learning experience,” said student Audra Rodee. “The classes you take depend on the emphasis you want. I was interested in multimedia, so I took a lot of video, photo, and design classes. The best part about these classes is you don’t sit in lecture all the time. Some time has to be spent in the classroom, but for the most part you are out around campus with a camera or at a computer doing editing/designing for a real client brought in by the professor.”

Although Rodee has chosen an emphasis in multimedia, she has enjoyed the program requirements that have introduced her to other subjects as well. She particularly enjoyed her woodworking class.

“I have been exposed to woodworking my entire life, as my grandfather has his own workshop, but I had never really done anything myself,” Rodee aid. “In the woods class I was able to create my own cedar chest. Not only did I have this really cool project to take home, but my confidence in a pretty unfamiliar environment was also drastically increased. Now I am saving to buy my own woodworking tools.”

Professor Christensen, who teaches the woodworking classes, is a world-renowned woodturner who passes on his art to interested students. His careful nurturing of students is matched only by the care with which he produces beautifully turned wooden bowls, pens, and vases; he is particularly acclaimed for his lidded containers.

Christensen’s art is displayed in several collections and has been published in more than two dozen books and numerous magazines. He has presented before more than 300 international and national audiences.

On a typical day in Christensen’s class, students are designing and building creative wooden masterpieces. Students can take a fundamentals class or advanced furniture design. Christensen’s students have represented BYU very well in national student furniture-design competitions. During the past decade his students have had more than 50 pieces accepted into nationally juried student furniture-design exhibitions and 30 pieces published in furniture-design books.

State-of-the-art facilities and equipment in the Snell Building, which houses the TEE program, enable work to flow uninhibited. Students collaborate on projects and assignments with professors and peers. This team collaboration provides an exciting and very effective learning experience.

Throughout the Snell Building the first lesson is always safety. Safety glasses are often required, and safety instruction is a major part of the course work.

Familiarity with shop equipment has changed over time. Professors say the students used to come to college classes familiar with protective procedures, having already used most of the tools. Now many students are using the machines for the first time. Safety procedures must be learned before any projects are started.


The TEE program traces its heritage to the Brigham Young Academy in 1875, with its focus on practical education. In the early years of the academy, manual arts courses were taught in engineering, technical drawing, and bookkeeping. When the academy became Brigham Young University in the early 1900s, these practical courses continued to increase, and part of campus included a blacksmith shop. The College of Applied Science was formed in the 1920s to instruct students in scientific principles and technical operations relating to the farm, the home, and the shop. Many of the classes included a practical application, as students would help to improve and remodel sites around campus. The college was fairly popular, enrolling about 15 percent of the student population.

These manual arts courses evolved into industrial education. In the 1970s and ’80s, as technological systems continued to become more prevalent in society, the field transitioned into technology education. Today the name Technology and Engineering Education represents the current focus on teaching essential skills and content that students will need for pre-engineering and industry. Much of the focus in these classes is on prototype design and how to engage K–12 students in the engineering design process as they create solutions for problems in their everyday lives.


Former TEE students now carry this passion for excellence to their students in middle and high schools throughout the United States and Canada. Over the last 10 years, 200 have graduated from the program and are impacting their own students in 18 states.

Anna McConnell, who graduated from the program in 2011, is in her third year as a technology teacher at Digital Harbor High School in Baltimore, Maryland. Students are selected by lottery to attend this technology-focused school overlooking Baltimore Harbor in historic Federal Hill.

“I love being able to help my students explore their creative outlets,” McConnell said. “It’s fun to see my students grow creatively—whether it be learning the creative process by creating a poster, taking a photo with manual settings, or shooting and editing a video. I love that I can give the class the same prompt and have such a wide variety of creative projects. I really feel blessed that I get to teach something that I love.”

McConnell credits her experience at BYU with teaching her how to learn. “First, technology and engineering cover so many different areas,” McConnell said. “I had to learn how to do everything from robotics to graphic design to woodworking to filming and editing a video. This was a lot to take in at first. Learning all the different areas of TEE helped me see how capable I am of learning how to do completely new things.”

Teaching in the inner city has its challenges, McConnell admits. She must find common ground amidst many diverse backgrounds. But she finds her strongest student relationships are often with the rougher students.

“I feel that teaching media-related subjects allows me to connect with my students more because I can see their passions and experiences come through and show in their projects. I love seeing who they are showing through in their work.”

McConnell says that her professors taught the importance of strong relationships with students. “I am so grateful that I was able to learn under professors who I felt truly cared about my learning and success. They did a fabulous job at creating a program culture that fostered a safe learning environment. After leaving BYU and starting my own teaching career, I knew that I wanted to be like them by trying to have those strong individual student relationships and have a positive classroom environment.”

With the current emphasis on STEM education, the demand for TEE graduates is greater than the program can supply. Each graduate typically has multiple job offers, and most can choose a geographical area. Although most graduates teach at the middle or high school level, many work as curriculum developers, career and technical education coordinators, and district information technology specialists. Several alumni currently teach at the community college or university level. Many graduates of the program choose to go into industry or undertake further education. But even if they work outside of teaching for a time, school districts welcome these professionals at any point in their careers.

Graduates of the TEE program work with the McKay School of Education as well as with personnel in the Utah State Office of Education to certify to teach technology and engineering.

This article was a collaboration between BYU TEE professors Steve Shumway, Geoff Wright, and Kip Christensen along with Cynthia Glad, Shauna Valentine, and Lindsey Williams from the McKay School.