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Great Minds Think Alike

Featured Photo from Great Minds Think Alike

The engineering magnet programs at Milwee Middle School and Lyman High are working together to solve big problems and win big trophies.

Milwee Middle School and Lyman High School have a lot in common. They’re both in Longwood, less than a mile apart. Both are engineering magnet schools with curricula that prepare students for professional collaborations, advanced problem-solving, and lucrative careers in the field.

And it’s the synergy between the schools that is turning heads in both engineering and academic circles.

Teamwork Makes The Dream Work

In engineering competitions, especially, the Milwee/Lyman one-two punch is not only putting Longwood on the map of America’s engineering hotbeds, but it’s giving tech-savvy students a perfect path for success from 6th through 12th grade.

SECME (formerly known as the Southeastern Consortium for Minorities in Engineering) hosts a series of science and engineering competitions around the country, and at the recent SECME Regional Competition in February, Milwee was named the top overall middle school while Lyman took home best overall high-school honors. The competition was sponsored by the University of Central Florida’s College of Engineering and Computer Science.

The same month, both schools placed in the Student Astronaut Challenge at Kennedy Space Center – where students use a flight simulator to perform tasks such as shuttle launches, orbits, and landings. Milwee was first overall in its division. Lyman placed fourth overall in the high-school division, but first in the landing and lab categories. 

February wrapped up with Milwee students competing in the Technology Student Association (TSA) State Conference, coming in seventh overall, up from #10 in the state the year before. 

Whew!.. That was a busy February!

Milwee and Lyman will also both participate in the Energy Whiz competition later this spring, hosted by the Florida Solar Energy Center. All of this is in addition to each school’s internal competitions and other engineering-related clubs and activities,  as well. 

Carol Unterreiner, engineering teacher at Milwee, and Luci Coker, the school’s magnet facilitator, report that some students participate in all three of the main science competitions – SECME, Student Astronaut Challenge, and TSA – in addition to band and sports. They juggle it all because they have a passion for the STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). 

“We try to provide different opportunities that resonate with kids,” says Luci.

Lance Harmon is a Milwee eighth grader who has wanted to be an astronaut since he was in kindergarten. He’s one of the kids who completes the competition trifecta, and he plans to keep right on competing next year at Lyman.

“Everything I do here,” says Lance. “I can do there.”

Eighth grader Jacob Henderson keeps busy with all three competitions, too, and the projects associated with them. As a result, he is learning time management.

“My group of friends has expanded, too,” he says.

For Emma Esteban, exposure to all three groups (she’s president of the TSA this year) has allowed her to make friends from other schools, as well, and all the competition experience pays dividends in the classroom.

“In classes, I grasp concepts easier,” she says.

Likewise, fellow eighth grader Grayson Reeves says SECME has introduced him to a possible career path in genetic engineering.

A Smooth Transition

Mary Acken, Lyman High engineering teacher, sees the difference in her students from Milwee. Their coding skills are especially strong. In fact, Mary says the Coding Club at Lyman was formed as a result of the coding knowledge base built at Milwee.

As students grow in their skills, the teachers give the budding engineers room to blossom.

“We take more of a step back and let them do it, via teamwork,” Mary says. 

Lyman’s engineering curriculum is called Project Lead the Way, and it includes a year-long senior project. Often, the foundations of those projects are laid in the engineering classes at Milwee. Working in synergy through one school’s engineering program – and then the other – readies students for careers in the industry. 

“They learn basic life skills,” says Carol. “If they have an idea that doesn’t work, we say, ‘So what, you failed. Let’s fix it.’ That’s where we are different. The kids learn to think for themselves, solve problems, and love STEM.”


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