Project Lead the Way, a national engineering-focused program for high school juniors and seniors, has been at the Career Center for three years and was evaluated Wednesday for accreditation.

“They’re the first school in Montana to have this program, and that’s a huge risk,” said Carolyn Helm, the Project Lead the Way representative evaluating the Career Center.

After spending a day observing classes and talking to students and teachers, she said the risk has paid off. She was impressed with the program’s implementation and said students were doing great things.

The Career Center has about 800 full- and part-time students from Billings’ three high schools. It provides career training and core education classes.

Students who enroll in Project Lead the Way tend to excel in math and science and go on to study engineering in college.

“It’s a lot of fun,” said Chase Vinger, a senior from West High who is in the program. “It’s difficult at first, but you don’t get bored.”

Vinger this fall will attend Montana State University in Bozeman, where he’ll study mechanical engineering.

Susan Plath, whose daughter went through the program in 2008 and 2009, said there was nothing better for students interested in engineering, “especially for those girls who like science and math.”

Her daughter, a freshman at MSU, found that she already knew much of what was being taught in her first engineering classes there.

Aly Winterhalter, a senior in the program, said she thinks Project Lead the Way will give her a big advantage when she starts classes at MSU this fall. She said it’s been a great use of her time.

“If I’m in school, I want to learn something I can apply.”

Contact Rob Rogers at or at 406-657-1231.

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