Seventh-graders in Albemarle County are learning about engineering and computer programming in a class called mechatronics.

In Eric Bredder's classroom at Sutherland Middle School, one student designs a robotic helicopter, as another programs a video game, and another edits footage and pictures. Bredder has developed an introductory course to teach seventh-graders the foundation of engineering.

"When they design electronic circuits, they look around the building and all of a sudden, they're like, ‘Oh my gosh this was wired, this was designed by an engineer,' and all of a sudden things around them in the world start to make sense," Bredder said.

He partners with engineering professors to develop curriculum for the class. At a time when only 15 percent of college graduates in the U.S. major in engineering or the sciences, Bredder has a program that gets kids excited about what they can do, and gives them the tools to do it.

"This class is awesome and you get to do all kinds of hands-on experiments and stuff, build robots and all that stuff, make movies, build your own cartoon shows," said student Joshua Robinson.

Bredder says most students that come in to college wanting to be engineering majors have no background and have to learn everything from scratch.

"They're naturally inclined to want to try out these technologies. They learn how to troubleshoot, problem-solve, and they just find it fun. You know, all of a sudden they just have this new class where they do hands-on things. They're learning something completely different from the traditional education system," Bredder said.

Bredder says, although his class is an elective, one-third of the school is already enrolled in it, and he hopes that number will grow. He says he is thankful to the school administration for giving him the freedom to make his class idea into a reality.

Reported by Rob Manch