In 2010, 7.6 million Americans had STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) jobs. By 2018, The U.S. Department of Commerce expects that number to increase by 1.3 million.

“This is definitely where the jobs are heading,” says Bob Lind, STEM coordinator for Covington Catholic High School.

With burgeoning opportunity on the horizon, Covington Catholic announced a partnership with Project Lead the Way earlier this year. The nonprofit delivers world-class STEM curriculum and professional development models to more than 5,000 schools across the United States. The program engages educators, as well as community and corporate entities, to establish skills for a variety of industries.

The 2015-2016 school year marks the first year for the program, so Lind is gearing the introductory curriculum toward freshman and sophomores. The courses are available for college credit, with institutions like the University of Kentucky accepting six credit hours for PLTW courses.

Lind plans to start underclassmen out with an engineering and design class, where they can apply math, science and engineering concepts. Students will work individually, as well as in teams, to design solutions for a variety of problems. In doing so, they will experiment with 3-D imaging and other engineering software. Lind’s other introductory course, principles of engineering, will explore a broad range of engineering topics, including mechanisms, the strength of structures, automation and other hands-on concepts.

“Project-based learning is a great way to cement learning concepts,” says Lind, “We can watch a video on how to change a tire, but until you actually do it with hands on, you won’t have a full understanding.”

Covington Catholic’s STEM program will also incorporate specialization courses like aerospace engineering, biological engineering and civil engineering.

In the PLTW curriculum, students engage in open-ended problem solving where they learn and apply the engineering design process. They also use the same software and programs companies throughout the world use.

According to a study of more than 56,000 Indiana high school graduates by the Center for Urban and Multicultural Education at Indiana University, students who participated in PLTW were three to four times more likely to study engineering than students who didn’t participate in the program. PLTW students who took three or more STEM courses in high school were six times more likely to study STEM in college than their peers who had not taken PLTW in high school. It’s especially encouraging considering that a STEM student with a bachelor’s degree earns, on average, 26 percent more than non-STEM professionals.

“We’ve been hearing over and over that American students are falling behind, and we’re seeing a lot of engineers coming from other countries… We need to give students a little exposure and see if it’s something they want to pursue,” says Lind.