A group of about 30 students and their teachers from Harford Technical High School left their textbooks behind for a day last week and punched in at several area businesses for a first-hand look at how the technologies they are studying are used in the workplace.
"We want them to see how what they're learning relates to the real world of technology," said William Seccurro, supervisor of vocational and industrial education for the Harford County public schools.
"We hope this will keep them motivated and their interest high. This country, and particularly Maryland, needs technically prepared workers."
The students are studying electronics, drafting, engineering, robotics and computer-aided design at the school, which is off Route 22 near Bel Air.
They test-drove a remote-control vehicle designed for use in military surveillance.
They also followed the steps in a manufacturing operation from the blueprints on a computer screen to the production.
"What I'm learning in school has applications out in the real world that would actually be fairly interesting," said Tye Wells, a junior who is 17 and lives in Churchville.
"It was all fun," agreed Erin Fitzgerald, a 16-year-old junior from Joppatowne. "We went to learn new ideas about what we can use our skills for in the work force. It showed me that there are a lot of opportunities."
"It was very enjoyable and it helped me out with a lot of questions I had about electronics and test equipment," added 16-year-old junior Jason Powers of Abingdon. "It showed me what we'd actually be doing at a job."
The tours on Thursday were sponsored by the Northeastern Maryland Technology Council, a consortium of Harford and Cecil county companies that promotes technology in the area.
The students visited the facilities of two of its members -- the robotics test center at the Aberdeen Proving Ground and the chemicals division of the J. M. Huber Corp. in Havre de Grace.
"We're taking the students from the classroom into the working world and letting them explore the opportunities that are ahead of them," said Denise Carnaggio, spokeswoman for the Northeastern Maryland Technology Council.
"We're reinforcing that what they're learning in the classroom is applicable to the jobs. This is the first time we've sponsored these tours and the council is very excited about the opportunity."
First stop was the U.S. Army Robotics Test Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground, where unmanned ground systems used by the Department of Defense are tested. There students operated a ** remote control test vehicle with the aid of a video camera mounted on it.
"They were pretty excited," said Ray Resendes, an electronics engineer for Combat Systems Test Activity who conducted the tour.
"They got to have hands-on and it grabbed their attention a lot. We tried to show them applications of what they're learning."
The tour of the Huber Corp. -- a manufacturer of silica, silicates and specialty additives for the plastics industry -- started at the engineering department's computer-aided design facilities and ended in the manufacturing area.
"We are very interested in the development of students and we want them to see that what they are learning has a direct application to Harford County industry," Jim Penrose, technology manager for the chemicals division.
"We want to encourage them that if they continue their studies there will be jobs out there for them."