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West Jordan Journal

College and career options fueled by in-depth JATC courses

Jan 06, 2023 08:17PM ● By Jet Burnham

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

West Jordan High student Nick Perez is currently working with a team of students to design and build a drone. They design the parts on the computer and then print them out on 3D printers and laser cutters and then solder the parts together. When complete, the drone will be evaluated by industry professionals who will send the top designs on to state competition.

Perez hopes his team’s drone does well in the Technology Student Association competition because he hopes to someday start his own drone company. He is gaining the necessary skills by taking advanced engineering classes at the Jordan Academy for Technology and Careers. He takes the bus from West Jordan High to the JATC for a half day of classes.

Competition projects are part of the curriculum at the JATC, which offers 27 classes in engineering, health sciences, information technology, skilled and technical sciences, teacher education and agriculture.

Bingham High senior Liberty Warner registered for classes at the JATC because of her interest in architecture.

 “I wanted a real hands-on experience of what the career would be like, and this is more in-depth than the classes at Bingham,” Warner said.

She has been impressed with everything she has learned.

“What I like about this class is that you can see the full product,” she said. “After we've worked on the structure and the waterways and everything that goes into a building—you learn it all separately—but then eventually, at the end of the quarter, we put it into a big project altogether.”

She is currently working on a project for a TSA architecture competition, designing an assisted living space as a virtual model and then as a physical model with fellow student Copper Hills High senior Buck Edenfield. Edenfield said competitions are his favorite part of JATC classes. He serves as vice president of the JATC TSA club; Warner is the president.

Industry professionals serve as judges to decide which projects will move on to competitions, which is very motivating, Warner said.

“It's the opportunity to compete with your work rather than just turn it in,” she said. “We'll be able to present to professionals, and so they'll be grading us. It motivates us to do better on our project so that if they are impressed, then they can refer us to a job.”

JATC students compete in several student association competitions. JATC South Campus CTE Coordinator Tami Clevenger said JATC students usually place in the top three at state and top 10 in nationals.

Last year, 25 JATC students went to TSA nationals, four went to SkillsUSA nationals and six went to HOSA nationals. JATC students swept the Nail Technician categories, placed first in Game Design and took top awards in Web Design at the SkillsUSA state competition. At the Educators Rising competition, they earned five first place spots at state and had three students finish in the top 10 at nationals. The JATC robotics team won TSA state and national competitions and a JATC student placed third in the nation for her FFA agriscience fair project.

In addition to the opportunity to compete, many students take JATC courses to prepare for college and careers.

“Every student has different needs and goals,” Clevenger said. “Some students take a program so they can work a higher paying or more flexible job while they put themselves through college after high school. Other students want to get a taste of what a career will be like, or they may have multiple career interests they want to explore.”

Riverton High senior Alyssa Hoggan loves science and wanted to see what it meant to be a scientist. Through JATC’s biotechnology and medical forensics classes, she discovered she enjoys the work. She said the classroom experiments are realistic, such as the lab in which she compared fibers found at a crime scene to solve a murder case. She feels confident she’ll be able to get a job in the industry out of high school while going to college.

Many students follow their passion to JATC courses. Riverton High senior Brooklyn Ashcraft loves plants—she has about 80 at home. She hopes to turn her passion into a career in the field of ecology, studying the relationship between plants and the environment. She took a few agricultural classes at Riverton High and then attended the JATC for the more advanced and hands-on classes.

“Instead of sitting at a desk and listening to the teacher talk, you actually get to do hands-on learning,” Ashcraft said of her JATC courses.

Horticulture instructor Sydnee Roholt said students also learn the business side of the industry through real-world applications.

“We will do a lot of business concepts,” she said. “Whether students go into owning a landscaping business or a floral design as a hobby, they get real world experience.”

Students grow plants in the JATC greenhouse, selling poinsettias and cacti to the public each December and holding a flower sale in spring. They learn about pricing and marketing. Horticulture students take on responsibilities as manager, marketer or planter in the greenhouse, which Roholt said prepares them for employment.

“They're learning how to hold a job and how to present themselves and how to finish tasks in a given amount of time,” she said. “When they leave, they have job experience in a greenhouse.”

JATC classes also provide opportunities for students to make connections with professionals and industry representatives who are invited to be guest speakers for classes or judges for student competitions.

“We’ve had a lot of opportunities to go and tour different facilities, we usually try to do a couple of field trips and then bring in professionals as much as possible,” engineering instructor Noelle Schick said. “We’re really trying to connect students to real world engineering as much as possible, so that what they’re learning in this class is directly applicable to what they would be doing when they go on to their future in engineering.”

She said as the engineering program and its reputation has grown, more companies are approaching her to arrange internships with students, including two engineering companies and a drone company.

Some students don’t have to wait until the end of their program to turn their skills into a job.

Once engineering pathway students complete a CAD class, they are qualified to work as drafters and get experience in the field and earn a good wage as they finish high school and attend college. Students taking biotechnology classes earn state certifications that help them qualify for jobs. Biotech instructor Mary Carlson said many of her former students have gone on to internships and jobs in fields such as chemistry and bioinformatics, and one student even got an internship in Australia.

Even JATC students who don’t pursue jobs in the field come away with employable skills.

Schick said engineering students learn skills that make them more employable in any career, such as working with others on group projects, creative problem-solving, presentation skills and confidence.

“By the end of the class, I want to build their confidence in being able to solve any problem by knowing where to look for the resources and figuring out that they are capable of solving problems,” she said.

Schick left an engineering career to become a teacher.

“I really like engaging with the students,” she said. “And I think engineering is a really fascinating field of study because you get to learn about the world around you and how it works. So I love transferring that excitement about understanding how things work to the students and seeing them get excited to learn about it as well and apply what they’re learning about the world around them to make it better.”

In addition to being licensed teachers, many JATC faculty members have real-world experience in their subjects. South Campus Principal Sonja Burton-Juarez said this is what sets JATC classes apart from CTE classes offered at high schools.

“Really, the main difference is that most of our teachers come from industry occupations,” she said. “They have worked in a chosen profession, and they have chosen to come and teach our students. They want to share their real-life knowledge with our students.”

JATC’s faculty includes fire sciences instructors who work for Unified Fire Authority, hair and nail instructors who own their own salons and aviation teachers who are pilots. There are health science, criminal justice and engineering instructors who worked in the professional field before becoming teachers.

While some CTE courses are offered at high schools, JATC offers introductory and more advanced courses. For example, the introductory Engineering Principles class is offered at three Jordan District high schools with the same curriculum. However, JATC students have access to high tech equipment including laser cutters, and, thanks to generous parent donations, several 3D printers, including PLA, resin and (in the near future) carbon fiber printers for the 3D design assignments.

“They can create a product and then actually see it, from green models on their screen to an actual part,” engineering instructor Amber Saffen said.

The JATC offers advanced engineering pathways in aerospace and drones, architecture, civil engineering and construction, or robotics and electronics for students who want to get more technical knowledge in specific fields.

“Kids who come to the JATC, a lot of them have a very clear idea of what they want out of the experience and I really love facilitating that,” Saffen said. “They know what they want but they don’t always know how to get there, so I love being able to give them the resources and set them on the path and help them figure out the in between steps to get to where they want to go.”

Like a high school, JATC has student leadership positions (called ambassadors) and school activities. Both campuses recently hosted a Halloween carnival and holiday activities such as turkey bowling and Christmas ornament decorating. The nails and hair design students demonstrate their skills with a fun Halloween-themed showcase in the fall and a fashion show in the spring. Landscape architect students design a haunted house in the fall.

JATC students are still able to be fully involved at their high schools. Edenfield said even though he spends much of his daily schedule at the JATC, he still has time to be involved at Copper Hills High.

“I'm in mathematics club as an officer and I'm in chess club, as well,” he said.

The JATC programs continue to grow and add new classes. The biotechnology program expanded this year to include the medical forensic class, which has become one of the most popular courses at the JATC South Campus. The engineering program has quadrupled course offerings in the last two years for a total of 22 credits.

Students earn high school credits in science, CTE or elective requirements as well as college credits for JATC classes. Currently, 60% of JATC’s classes offer concurrent enrollment credits.

The JATC staff members and student ambassadors work with middle school and high school counselors to get the word out to students about what the JATC offers.

“It’s always a shame when we talk to seniors and they're like, “Oh, I would have been in pharmacy tech if I would have known but I had no idea,’” North Campus CTE Coordinator Mandi Jensen said.

There will be a JATC open house held Jan. 26 from 4 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the JATC North Campus, 9301 S. Wights Fort Road in West Jordan and at the JATC South Campus, 12723 S. Park Avenue in Riverton. Parents and students can check out the campuses, tour the classrooms and speak with the instructors.

Applications for all JATC courses for the 2023-24 school year will be given equal consideration when received between Jan. 3 and Feb. 28. Applications and more information can be found at