Thinking Outside the Box: Creating Student Engagement Activities for CTE Learning

Room: D135-136

Furnished by: Meteor Education

Audience: Architects, Engineers, Contractors, Facilities Personnel, Educators

Meteor Education

Call to Action: Identify student groups that can take part in your projects and identify CTE program student engagement activities that are outside the box. Identify multiple ways that students could participate in the design process about the ideal learning environment and participate in tangible contributions to the resulting built project that instills a sense of ownership and pride. Identify ways that the A/E/C team can be creative in engaging with students to offer real-world opportunities to experience design and construction from concept to completion.

Abstract: During the planning and engagement phases of the Benson Polytechnic High School Renovation and Addition project, Portland Public Schools nurtured a strong sense of community involvement, drawing significant interest from students, alumni, and community members alike. Benson stands out from typical neighborhood high schools as it admits students through a lottery-based system as the District’s CTE Focus Option high school. Given the widespread interest in this STEAM and CTE-focused school, it was crucial to implement district-wide engagement efforts. The district, architects, and contractors actively sought unique opportunities to interact with students studying hands-on project based learning. Integration in the Design Advisory Group + Student Co-chair The Benson Design Advisory Group (DAG), which included 13 dedicated students alongside teachers, staff, alumni, and community members, played a pivotal role. Over 75 applicants vied for positions, demonstrating unprecedented student enthusiasm. The DAG convened for 12 meetings over four years, ensuring diverse perspectives informed the project. The DAG elected two co-chairs to participate in pre-DAG meeting planning & review meetings, with one of the co-chairs being a Benson Tech student and graduated from Benson tech with a focus in architectural drafting. Participation in the Benson Tech Show The design and contracting team also actively participated in the annual Benson Tech Show, which is a two evening open house for the school community showcasing student work, immersing themselves in the school’s culture and soliciting feedback from students, parents, and prospective students. Tiny Home Project Purposeful integration of students in designing aspects of the project, such as the project’s construction mock-up provided an opportunity for Benson Tech engineering, construction and electric students to help design and build a tiny home that served as a mock-up for construction. This project exemplified a commitment to hands-on involvement. CTE Courtyard Banners & Cafe Graphic Design In the CTE courtyard, we aimed to revitalize the space into a vibrant hub. Three building facades faced the courtyard, offering potential for activation. Thirteen banners, designed by students and reviewed with experiential graphic designers on the design team, added visual interest and identity to the space, showcasing photography, graphics, and more. This transformation exemplifies the power of design to enrich community spaces. All CTE programs were represented in the final designs. A compilation of the hands on learning & tools images were used to create a graphic inside the cafe area of the student commons. Internships The design and contracting team provided internship opportunities for Benson students throughout the course of the project. Construction Site Tours A series of school construction site tours has brought students face-to-face with real-world applications. For example, electrical students toured alongside engineers and electricians, gaining insights into their field and related installation components. Student visits were coordinated with many onsite subcontractors to learn about their expertise and status of their work and installation onsite. The GC also provided BIM coordination demonstrations. In 2023, third-graders from a PPS elementary school toured the school under construction where one student asked, “Do you think I could go to a school like this one day?” Through inclusive community initiatives, hands-on design participation, and strategic industry collaboration, PPS cultivated an environment where students not only contributed meaningfully but also gained invaluable real-world experiences. This narrative serves as a testament to the transformative power of student engagement in shaping the educational landscape.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Learn how to navigate obstacles in obtaining staff buy-in by tying engagement strategies to curriculum.
  2. Gain understanding in how to create equitable opportunities that invite all students to participate.
  3. Learn how to collaborate with your design team to think outside the box when developing engagement strategies.
  4. Learn how to harness the power of the construction process as the ultimate real world teaching tool.
Jen Sohm, ALEP
Jen Sohm, ALEP
Sr. Project Manager, Office of School Modernization, Portland Public Schools

Jen, a project manager with over 15 years at Portland Public School’s Office of School Modernization, brings vast experience to the Benson modernization project since 2015. She navigates challenges and embraces rewards in school facility planning, emphasizing public processes, stakeholder engagement, and functional learning spaces. Advocating for Career Technical Education (CTE) and hands-on learning, she integrates student involvement in project design, planning, and construction, fostering practical learning opportunities.

Lydia Burns, AIA
Lydia Burns, AIA
Associate Principal, Bassetti Architects

Lydia brings nearly 30 years of design experience, including 25+ years focused on K-12 schools. Associate Principal and Director of Project Management at Bassetti Architects, Lydia is passionate about creating learning environments that are inclusive to all learners and learning modalities. Lydia served as Project Manager for the modernization of Benson Polytechnic High School in Portland, working to co-locate CTE and academic learning to create one of the most comprehensive CTE programs in the state.

Benson Teacher and CTE Teacher
Benson Teacher and CTE Teacher
Benson Polytechnic High School and Portland Public Schools

Our intent is to either include short video recorded statements from the teachers we’ve worked with or potentially include one teacher or an administrator to discuss the successes of the many student engagement activities that we have accomplished. We’ve worked with many CTE teachers on student engagement over the years including but not limited to:

  • Construction CTE class & teacher – for the tiny house, project mockup, GC mentoring Electric
  • CTE classes & teacher – for the tiny house wiring, construction site visits, engineer class visits, lead electrician class and site tours
  • Engineering CTE classes – tiny house design & charrette, alumni wall appreciation
  • Manufacturing CTE teacher & classes – student sculpture, site visits
Brad Nile, AIA
Brad Nile, AIA
Project Executive, Andersen Construction

As a lifelong builder and student of construction systems, Brad Nile has made this the focus of his academic studies as well as his travels. In his 25 years with Andersen Construction, Brad has managed the construction of many landmark commercial and institutional buildings including mass timber projects at the OSU College of Forestry, UW Tacoma Milgard Hall, OSU Advanced Wood Products Laboratory, District Office, OSU Peavy Hall Replacement, PCC Opportunity Center at 42nd Ave.

Core Competency

Community Engagement
Leads the internal and external communities through a discovery process that articulates and communicates a community-based foundational vision, forming the basis of a plan for the design of the learning environment. The vision is achieved through a combination of rigorous research, group facilitation, strategic conversations, qualitative and quantitative surveys and workshops. Demonstrates the skill to resolve stakeholder issues while embedding a community's unique vision into the vision for its schools.

LearningSCAPES 2024 Conference in Portland, Oregon


Oregon Convention Center
777 NE Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd, Portland, OR 97232


October 16-19, 2024


+1 480.391.0840