Western Dubuque High School students learning STEM skills in go-kart class

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EPWORTH, Iowa (KCRG) -- Some Dubuque County students are getting hands-on experience in a field they could eventually have a job in. Western Dubuque students are creating go-karts from start to finish and learning many skills along the way.

Western Dubuque High School students work on a go-kart in an industrial technology class on Monday, April 8, 2019. (Allison Wong, KCRG-TV9)

The go-kart class first started out as an extracurricular activity two years ago. With the help of Greg Gill, a John Deere engineer, about 13 students met for a couple of hours on Thursday nights to build a go-kart.

Junior Josiah Christensen said, "I just think it's something fun to do because I wasn't exactly involved in too many extracurriculars my freshman year, and so it just gave me something to do and it's a lot of fun."

However, once the school saw how much students were learning, the club turned into a for-credit class.

"There's computer (skills), they do CAD stuff, they use hands-on stuff," industrial technology teacher Steve Seay said. "I've got students that do the PR and media."

Sophomore student Kim Gill said, "we've done a lot of research on the car to see what's the fastest and what's the lightest."

"It's good to learn hands-on skills, you know that'll be something I'll use for the rest of my life," Christensen said.

Seay says students realize doing well in this class will do more for them than boost their GPA.

"They're starting to learn that, you know the more hands-on stuff can lead to the engineering. I've had a couple kids so far that didn't even think about being an engineer, and they're kind of thinking about going to college now to be an engineer," he said.

Seay believes the class teaches a lot of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics or STEM skills. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, those careers will grow 13 percent by 2022. Experts say right now more than two million STEM jobs are unfilled.

The students have a real-life example of how these skills can lead to those types of jobs in Gill.

"I take experience that I have from work and I bring it here and try to show it to the students," Gill said.

"For the students to get involved with this, to build something, to create a hypothesis and test it out and see how they do in a competition, that builds a lot of confidence to say I've been able to do that when they apply for colleges or even jobs," added Gill.

The students test out their finished go-karts at various competitions around the region. Their first competition is on Saturday, April 13th in Fennimore, Wisconsin.

Seay said the students are also asking for donations to help support the classes. Small engines, volunteer time and money are some of the things they're asking for. Call the Western Dubuque High School office at (563) 876-3442 for more information.