Gov. Bill Lee visited Fairview High School on Friday and met with students participating in the school's mechatronics program, a technical training program that allows for students to earn an associate's degree from Columbia State Community College upon their high school graduation.
Launched by State Rep. Sam Whitson as a pilot program in 2018, the program has gone on to receive continued state funding through Lee's GIVE Act, a 2019 bill that offers grants for students to pursue duel enrollment credits or technical programs.
More than 40 students, some sitting in front of creations of their own engineering know-how, fixed their gazes on Lee as he entered the classroom.
"We have for decades misunderstood the need for programs like this, we've not recognized the particular gifts and talents that certain students have and we've kind of made a one size fits all education system — but that's changing," Lee said to the students. "We need students like you to ultimately enter the workforce that will allow our economy, allow lives to be changed in our state."
Lee went on to call Fairview High School, where Lee attended in the early 1970s, a leader for other schools, and that the data and metrics collected from the mechatronics program would go on to "inform the way we do schools all across the state."
"I love what's happening here; you all are the embodiment of something that needs to be happening all over the country and all over the state," Lee continued.
"You all should be commended for pursing this path; it's a certain pathway that is so needed in our communities, our workforce and in our state. We're very proud of you and you're laying a foundation for students in the future."
One by one, students in the program then gave Lee demonstrations of their creations. One such device was a contraption designed to automatically sort bottle caps based on what material they were made of using reflection-detecting sensors.
While funding for the program is not annually recommitted to by the state, the next school year has seen Columbia State awarded $200,000 to fund the program for the upcoming school year, covering tuition, equipment and instructional material.