Michael Rooney has known for a long time that he wanted to be an engineer. But until he got involved in District 214’s Project Lead the Way (PLTW) program at Rolling Meadows High School, he didn’t know what kind of engineering he wanted to pursue.
Today, thanks to his courses through the PLTW program in Rolling Meadow’s Engineering Career Pathway, Rooney is a sophomore studying to be a manufacturing engineer at Bradley University in Peoria.
“There’s a lot of different fields in engineering,” Rooney says. “The first class was Introduction to Engineering Design. … I didn’t actually start switching over to manufacturing until I took the second course. Basically what we did in that class is we learned how to program different machines to cut different parts to certain specifications of what we wanted it to be. That class is what taught me what major I wanted to go into.”
Manufacturing drew him, he says, because “it’s something that I love doing. I love being able to design something and then … have something you hold in your hands.”
Rooney got involved in the program, which was just starting for his junior year, through his school counselor. “I was talking to my counselor about it and she put me in the first Project Lead the Way class. And from there I just kept taking Project Lead the Way classes.”
He also became actively involved in co-curricular activities, including Rolling Meadow’s BattleBots, building robots, and WildStang, a FIRST Robotics program open to all District 214 students. Members of the WildStang team develop skills related to the design, fabrication, programming, and operation of robot systems, and build large robots that are entered in FIRST Robotics Competitions in the area and nationally. Rooney’s team ended up competing in the world championships in St. Louis.
In addition, Rooney got an internship with Bosch Rexroth in Hoffman Estates starting the summer before his senior year of high school. He continues to work for the company now that he’s in college, working summers and winter breaks, plus doing some projects while he’s at school. “As a manufacturing engineering intern, I design and redesign cable and motor drawings,” Rooney says. “My name is on over 600 engineering drawings. I also do efficiency studies on the assembly line [and] design ergonomic equipment.
“I used a lot of the skills I learned in classes in this internship and then I carried the internship through college,” he says. “I’ve been gaining skills from working in class [and] sharing my skills with this company. I just keep on learning new things.”
For students in high school considering what career pathway to take, Rooney recommends asking for advice. “I would say try to connect with your teachers and ask them about their experiences,” he said. “[Technology ed teacher] Anthony Genovese was one of my teachers, and I don’t think I’d be where I am today without his help. I also had [Career and Technical Education Division Head Dave] Wietrzak, who helped me get my internship, and I decided that summer that I wanted to go into manufacturing engineering.”
Thanks to his high school preparation, Rooney is now very active in his college work. “I’m loving college,” he said. “I recently got a job doing research for the university, and we’re working on some pretty cool projects in the manufacturing department. I helped start a club for engineers and entrepreneurs. I just keep gaining all these experiences, and I think they’re going to be very, very helpful down the road.”