Nathan Limmer is a self-described computer guy.

Yet that hasn’t quelled the Osseo High School student’s interest in all things engineering — whether that’s building a small hydrogen fuel cell to power a drag racer or designing a small truss bridge out of balsa wood that supported up to 100 pounds in weight.

“Computers are definitely my forte,” said Limmer. “But I am really enjoying my engineering classes. It’s been fun to dive right into these projects.”

Limmer is one of about 95 Osseo High students participating in Project Lead the Way, a national science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) curriculum that focuses on real-world projects and problems.

Recently, the school was notified that it had received national certification from Project Lead the Way, an honor shared by about 1,600 schools nationwide.

The certification, which took the high school about two years to earn, means that students enrolled in the program can apply for college credit or receive college-level recognition from universities affiliated with Project Lead the Way. In Minnesota, those include the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, St. Cloud State University, and Minnesota State University, Mankato.

“We are extremely proud to be Project Lead the Way-certified and excited that our students are eligible for college-level recognition, which may include college credit, scholarships and admissions preference,” said Robert Perdaems, Osseo High’s principal. “The Project Lead the Way program is a perfect match for students interested in engineering, math and science and gets them thinking about college and careers.”

Focused on engineering

Osseo Area Schools has invested in Project Lead the Way in a significant way — all three of its high schools and its four junior highs offer the program.

Osseo High is the newest school to be added to the mix, kicking off during the 2012-2013 school year after receiving a $35,000 grant from Cargill. The school’s Project Lead the Way focus is engineering.

To achieve national certification, the high school had to demonstrate how it was implementing its engineering focus program. After that, a Project Lead the Way team made a site visit last year, meeting with teachers, counselors, administrators and industry professionals who support the program.

Just before school started this year, the school learned it had achieved national certification within two years of the program’s launch, a process that usually takes about three years.

“Osseo Senior High should be congratulated for demonstrating its commitment to PLTW’s quality standards,” said Project Lead the Way President and CEO Vince Bertram. “The real winners here, however, are Osseo Senior High’s students. Students benefit from Project Lead the Way innovative, project-based curriculum that encourages creativity, problem solving and critical thinking. We look forward to many more years of working together to prepare Osseo Senior High School students for the global economy.”

What industry, colleges want

For his Project Lead the Way coursework, sophomore Joseph Rosenquist has built a virtual puzzle cube out of pieces he’s constructed. He’ll be graded on whether the pieces fit together perfectly.

“This is definitely something you could use in engineering to build a computer or a car,” he said of his assignment.

At Osseo High and other Project Lead the Way sites, students’ work revolves around real-world problems and their solutions.

It’s one of the hallmarks of the program, which is now offered in about 6,500 schools throughout the country.

Since he’s been a Project Lead the Way instructor at Osseo High, John Licciardi has worked with students on projects that have required them to build drag racers, compound mechanisms as well as some unique projects of their own such as foldable ear buds.

Students often work in groups, a skill they’ll need once they enter college and the workforce, Licciardi points out.

“Anyone who is an engineer would tell you have to be able to work on teams,” he said. “Colleges talk about graduates not having the social skills; we’re changing that. I really try to create the most realistic environment the kids will need; you got to learn people’s names, you gotta get along. You have to work together to finish the problem.”

Licciardi is hoping to add a computer science engineering course in the future and possibly an introductory course offered between semesters to allow students to try out the Project Lead the Way coursework.

“Getting certified is a big deal for us,” he said. “It’s definitely an acknowledgment that we are doing what we should with our students — what industry is asking for and what the colleges want.”