Guest editorial: PCCAPS program is worth the investment
November 18, 2014
As a recent graduate of Park City High School (June 2014), I want to respond to the 10/24/14 Guest Editorial that expressed negative opinions about the level of investment in the Center for Advanced Professional Studies (PCCAPS) program. This student-authored letter seemed to claim that investments in PCCAPS didn’t yield sufficient benefits to justify its share of the school budget. Because I have just completed a full year in the program, I wanted to write to offer an alternative viewpoint.
The PCCAPS program involves real companies providing actual projects assisted by top-notch professional mentors, many of whom take time from their jobs to work with students. I have always liked to tinker with computers and electronics, and plan to major in electrical engineering. The teachers try to pair students with projects that match their interests, and I was assigned projects with Skullcandy and Hill Air Force Base. With SkullCandy, I was able to pursue a design idea I had to build a new type of headphone product demonstration unit that gives customers the ability to try out new products. My work in PCCAPS led to an internship with the company in their Advanced Concepts Engineering Group to further develop my idea. I now have a prototype product demonstration unit up and running in a retail store.
The Hill AFB Project allowed me and my teammates to work with military munitions experts in the exploration of robotic designs to assist with the detection of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Our team built a small robot that can be operated wirelessly from a safe distance using on-board cameras and an Xbox controller which won national recognition by the Air Force Research Lab in Dayton, Ohio. Once we had the robot running, we teamed with Vaporsens, a nanotechnology company that is developing an electronic device to "sniff" explosives, and incorporated one of their prototypes onto our robot. I cannot think of any other way that I would have gained such unique experiences as a high school student without the PCCAPS program.
In addition to technical skills, we learned how to function in a business environment as professionals rather than students. I learned how to deal effectively with clients and to craft high-level client presentations. Before we presented to our client, we gave mock presentations to several mentors, including a former CEO and a professor emeritus from the University of Utah, gaining invaluable feedback. How many 18 year-olds get that kind of experience? We even had the opportunity to demonstrate our robot for Utah Gov. Gary Herbert when he toured the CAPS facility last spring.
Things that I had never dreamed I would be doing before college graduation became reality and I was by no means alone, as my fellow students did such things as filing for a patent, raising funds on Kickstarter and launching a new business, among many other examples.
I believe that my PCCAPS experience will put me ahead of my peers in engineering school because I have already gained significant real-world experience, and I believe that I can apply what I have learned to become a better college student and future employee. PCCAPS is a successful model for school programs that aim to more fully prepare students for their future endeavors in engineering, software solutions, digital design, business and teacher education. I will leave the business of budgets and building space allocation to the school board to decide. As for me, I am proud and grateful to be part of the second CAPS program ever launched in the U.S.