America’s Civics Education in Trouble


By Chloe Olsen, Class of 2021

Dinner is served, and the powers of the government are hungry. As politicians eagerly lift the lid from the silver platter, there lie your rights. All the worse, you, the server, did not look under the lid before you inadvertently surrendered your freedom to the mouths of tyrants. 

Many Americans are ignorant of what the Constitution means, or even what it says, for that matter. Over half of U.S. citizens have admitted to never laying eyes on the Constitution, the document that secures our rights and limits governmental powers. Americans either do not realize that the Constitution is the electric fence between tyranny and liberty, or they misinterpret usurpations of rights as harmless acts. 

When the government attempts to abuse its power, it is not always obvious. Rather, abuse of power and violation of rights are often under the nose, masked as a necessity for the “common good.” For this reason, many citizens fall prey to subtle attacks of freedom, unable to recognize tyranny for what it truly is. Here emerges the urgency of a proper civics education. Our country’s lack of civics education has raised generations of Americans who do not know the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment or even what the three branches of government are. If we come to understand the Constitution and the way our government functions, however, we will be armed to defend our rights.

Providence seniors take Mr. Rottman’s U.S. Government course, which includes an in-depth study of the Constitution. Considering the seniors have not yet taken economics or even completed their U.S. Government class, the contrast between the knowledge of these high school students and average Americans is jarring. Providence seniors were asked a series of questions regarding the Constitution, and the results were compared to those of American polls. 

When Americans were asked, “Which five rights are guaranteed by the First Amendment?” a mere 3% could list all five, while nearly 71% of Providence seniors answered correctly. In answering another question, 79% of seniors knew that the Senate confirms Supreme Court nominees while only 30% of Americans answered correctly. The percentage of seniors’ accuracy in answering these constitutional-knowledge questions was markedly higher than the average American for each of six factual questions. 

When asked more subjective questions, the stark contrast of results continued; 36% of Providence seniors believe that the minimum wage should be reduced or eliminated, while only 5% of Americans agree (and this is before those seniors have experienced their AP microeconomics course). When looking at the topic of minimum wage, Americans tend to view it as an equality or general welfare issue rather than a freedom issue. That said, a comprehensive knowledge of Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution would clarify whether or not federal minimum wage laws are constitutional and squash misunderstandings. 

As seen by the comparison of constitutional quiz results, proper civics education is imperative to the basic and necessary knowledge of rights. The Declaration of Independence states that the function of government is to secure our rights. Public comprehension of the Constitution is remarkably poor, and civics engagement is at an all-time low. Providence combats these dangers to our republic by preparing students to be both informed and engaged citizens. By the time they graduate high school, Providence students likely have a greater understanding of the constitution than 99% of Americans. 

Bereft of civic knowledge, Americans will be ill-equipped to defend our unique system.  Attacking the erosion of Americans’ rights at its roots requires sufficient education on the Constitution for Americans of all ages. The more we are unable to identify the powers governments have and the rights you have, the more we hand the ability to violate those rights to the government on a silver platter. Once our rights are seized by the unrelenting jaws of politicians, it is difficult to restore them or prevent more from being devoured. 

Let not the discovery of our rights occur as we read their names in an obituary. Providence equips students to understand their freedoms, so that they can guard these rights against disguised threats—before it’s too late. 

Senior Spotlight: Alena Zeni

Alena Zeni is one of the many seniors worldwide whose last year of high school is looking quite different from what they expected. Prom has been canceled; Providence’s iconic “senior presentations” were carried out online; graduation will be a bit creative this year to say the least.

Alena Zeni, Class of 2020
Yet, while noting sadness over missed end-of-high-school memories with friends, Alena’s primary sentiment is excitement for the future—and her future is certainly bright! Alena was chosen to be an intern for NASA this summer, helping the Coast Guard design and build short-range search and rescue drones. This fall, Alena will begin her studies at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Arizona, where she plans to double-major in Astronautical Engineering and Global Security & Intelligence. She hopes to eventually work for a company like NASA or as an intelligence analyst.
Alena (left) helps catch a wayward drone! (It was her
idea to use a sheet to catch it and thereby prevent crash damage.)
A student in the Providence Engineering Academy all four years of high school, it was actually an elective in junior high that cultivated Alena’s love of the subject. She admits, “If not for junior high engineering, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today!” Among her favorite memories of the high school Academy include building a Tensegrity ball (a structure made of beams and ropes in which no beams directly touch one another, but are held together by the tension in the ropes) and a hexacopter drone, affectionately named “Thiccarus” due to its broad dimensions. Alena spoke fondly of the drone, admitting that her class worked so long on the project that they personified the drone as their class “child.”
Madison, Alena, Todd, and Ben:
senior members of the Providence
Engineering Academy
A field trip to the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena earlier this fall is where Alena definitively found her calling. Inspired by the work of JPL, Alena decided to forgo a mechanical engineering degree and pursue astronautical engineering instead.

Alena (upper right group) poses with her class at JPL
Alena’s senior project—a capstone experience required of all graduates of Providence that involves a research paper, professional presentation, and defense of a meaningful topic—is titled “Guy-ence and Men-gineering: Pushing Back Against Cultural Barriers for Women in STEM.” Alena gives credit to a “Women in STEM day” hosted at UCSB during her 9th grade year for raising her awareness of the gender gap in the STEM disciplines. Her interest in researching the reasons behind the divide developed throughout high school and became an obvious choice for her senior project.

Among many contributing factors for the gender gap in STEM fields, Alena cites gender-based micro-aggressions, stereotype threat, explicit and implicit gender-science biases, and the competitive, aggressive atmosphere where performance expectations are not conducive to work-life balance. To combat these challenges for women in STEM fields, Alena encourages companies to consider blind resumes in early hiring procedures, expand skills required to include stereotypical female strengths such as collaboration and teamwork, and actively ensure qualified women get deserved promotions based on merit. Alena brings her Christian worldview to her research, articulating man and woman’s equal ability to image their Creator. As image-bearers, men and women are both called to create solutions for problems that arise in the world.

Alena’s and Madison’s final project for the year

Alena’s design for her aircraft fuselage successfully printed!

As Alena wraps up her senior year, her final project for the Engineering Academy involves designing a powered model aircraft with classmate and good friend Madison Malone. The duo are assembling their aircraft and planning on flight tests toward the end of May. Alena’s love for engineering is undeniably evident as she speaks with excitement to see her creation fly, citing many late nights and Zoom calls to navigate the design process in an unprecedented classroom setting.

Her final advice to younger students interested in studying engineering, math, or science? “Don’t give up on the math. It can get really, really hard… but once you have that moment where it all clicks and falls into place, it is so worth it.”

Architecture Competition 2020

(The following post, written by Anna Beebe, was intended to be published in March—and then COVID-19 happened! Forgive our tardiness… the Architecture Competition was one of the very last things the Providence Engineering Academy did in person this year and it was highly worthwhile!)

The students get ready for the day’s instructions

On Tuesday, March 10th, fourteen Providence Engineering students—our largest group to date—attended a county-wide High School Design Competition hosted by the Architectural Foundation of Santa Barbara. Our students joined approximately 30 other students at 8am at Direct Relief’s global headquarters in Santa Barbara while a parallel section of the competition was offered at the same time at a location in the Santa Ynez valley.

This competition has been held annually for the past 30 years, and Providence students have won awards in the competition in both 2018 and 2019.

Teacher Matt Eves prepared our students incredibly well. For the last three months, class time has been devoted to architectural study. Students have been learning how to use architectural drawing boards with t-squares and triangles, as well as how to draw to scale. Both of these skills were utilized in the competition, as students were engaged in designing floor plans, site plans, and elevation drawings.

On site, students were given a design challenge immediately upon entering the room. Historically, the Architectural Foundation has attempted to choose challenges that connect directly to current architectural challenges in Santa Barbara.

This year, the challenge was to design a “tiny house”—a fully-functional home that is typically less than 600 square feet, with some as small as 65 square feet. You may be familiar with the “tiny homes” that back up to the US101 North near the Salinas exit, one of several tiny-house projects in Santa Barbara born of a recent ordinance authorizing their construction in order to make use of unconventional plots of land.

Students were given a site plan that showed streets and a plot layout and were instructed to design a tiny house on it, and draw-to-scale some details including elevation and floor plan. While the students worked, professional architects circled the room acting as mentors and offering design advice.

Sophomore Kaitlyn Tang said of the competition, “There’s something about designing that is special. Although tasked to build a tiny house, there really was no ceiling to what we could do. It was so amazing to be able to design something from scratch with endless possibilities. I had such a fun experience and time flew by, but I think in the end, we all designed something that we were really proud of.”

Dozens of high schools from around Santa Barbara County
were represented at the design competition
Junior Joshua Frankenfield returned to the competition for his third year, having won past awards. He says of his experience, “I must say that the architecture competition is one of the highlights of the school year for me. The way it is set up gives the students leeway to solve the problem however they wish in the time period given, so long as it operates within the restraints. It is a true engineering experience within the realm of architecture.”

We are incredibly proud of the hard work and creativity our Providence students demonstrated, and are so grateful for the opportunity they had to connect with architects in the city. For those who are interested in studying architecture, this experience will be a wonderful spring-board for their professional future! As sophomore James Loewen put it, “It has been a very fun experience regardless of winning or not!”

A Tour of JPL

(This is the eighth in a series of blog articles written by the Providence Engineering Academy students. Pedro in 11th grade reflects on his experience at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena on our class field trip earlier this year.)

“The trip was really inspiring way above expectations. I enjoyed the chance to see where they work, and the 2020 rover was a memory I will never forget.”

“It really re-awoke the third grade Nolan in me. The rover around Saturn replica was cool to see, it was a great experience, and I’m so glad I got the opportunity to go.”

These are the words Josh and Nolan stated about our class trip to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). JPL was a fun and interesting experience, and in our tour we got to learn and see things that we’ve never seen before.

First off, we saw a video that was amazing to watch. This video showed us the gigantic size of the whole universe and taught us that most of it hasn’t been explored. It also showed some satellites and spacecraft that were launched into space, and we were able to look at smaller scaled models of these around the room.

Our host shows the various scale models of historical space probes

Next, we got to see the control room, which was full of screens and numbers. This is the room where they gather information from every spacecraft, rover, and satellite. It is also the place from which they controlled the landing of the Mars rover, Curiosity, in 2012—which we learned was a really terrifying seven minutes for these hard workers! 

The control center, from which every robotic space mission
has been monitored
Then, we got to see photos from one of the rovers on Mars. These photos had been taken just hours earlier and we got to see them on a screen!

After that, we got to see the construction of the 2020 Mars rover. Amazing! We learned that anyone that is eighteen or under can get their name applied on the 2020 rover.

The rover being constructed inside a “clean room”
Our final stop was the gift shop, which sold “space” ice cream, sweaters, and some cool toys for your kids. Overall, JPL was a fun and really cool experience for all of us.

Private vs. Government Space Programs

(This is the seventh in a series of blog articles written by the Providence Engineering Academy students. In this article, 12th-grade student Todd shares why privately-funded organizations may be a better choice for space exploration.)

Space travel. It’s been around since 1961 when the Soviets launched Yuri Gagarin into space. But who has been sending people into space here in the United States? For the longest time, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Jet Propulsion Laboratories (JPL) were the sole authorities on spaceflight. That all changed when SpaceX, the first private space agency in the United States, was founded by Elon Musk in 2002. Since then, there have been 76 launches by SpaceX, and 26 launches by NASA.

But what is the difference between these two agencies? NASA is a public, government-owned organization and SpaceX is a private company that has not yet launched an IPO. So which organization takes a better approach?

Although NASA has a bigger history in the space travel industry, the real facts lie in the fundamentally different ways the two organizations are run. NASA is entirely funded by the government, so it gets its money from taxes and loans the government takes out. SpaceX is completely private, so its only money comes from its own profits and money from investors.

In my opinion, privately funded space organizations are the way to go because of the way they are funded. At the time of this writing, the United States national debt is around $22.8 trillion, and we have spent around $601 billion dollars on NASA so far. This money should be spent on other things such as working on shrinking the national deficit.

On the other hand, SpaceX has not gone public yet, so we do not know their current revenue and value. Though we do not know the numbers yet, we can say for sure that SpaceX does not contribute to the national debt, which is a very good thing.

One additional factor that sets the two groups apart is the ability to reuse rockets. SpaceX’s flagship rockets are the Falcon Heavys. The company boasts the ability to reuse its rockets after they have been recovered. This is a smart, cost-saving strategy that further proves that space travel should be privatized.

Regardless of the organization, one thing is for sure: space travel is here to stay, and the opportunities are ripe like never before.

The Flowers are Listening: Machines Inspired by Nature

(This is the sixth in a series of blog articles written by the Providence Engineering Academy students. In this article, 12th grade student Alena reflects on building machines inspired by God’s incredible design found in His natural creation.)

Watch what you say because the flowers are listening.

Sounds like Alice in Wonderland, right? Okay, so maybe the flowers can’t listen to your conversation, but they do “listen.” Sound is so fundamental—birds, wind, the waves at the beach, cars driving by—that relying on it is essential to survival.

Researcher Lilach Hadany posed the question: what if flowers had this same necessary survival instinct? She concluded that they do and that they also respond to the sounds around them. Hadany and her team studied evening primroses (pictured) and discovered that when these flowers sense vibrations from bees’ wings they temporarily increase the concentration of sugar in their nectar. They concluded that it would be too much for the flower to produce this amount of sugar in the nectar at all times, so they respond to vibrations to know when to produce “the good stuff”.

Now picture this: twenty-four engineering students, sitting outside in the sun, 100% sure they had no idea about what today’s lesson will be. Then, Mr. Meadth hands out giant sticky notes. Confusion. Suddenly, Davis knows what’s going on (he’s been keeping up with recent science). Articles are handed out, read, and reread. It all makes sense now.

The engineering students are split into teams of two and asked to design a machine that can do the same things this flower can. The lesson of the day was all about how many machines today are based on nature, and how we can gain inspiration from looking at God’s creation around us. As the students started designing their own flower, they realized how complex the components would have to be.

Take a minute, and think of what you would need. Done? Cool. You may continue.

Let’s start at the top and work our way down. To replicate the “receiver” of the vibrations, you would need to replicate the petals. They were so precise that if you removed even one petal, the flowers didn’t respond to vibrations at all. You would also need a place for the sugar to be distributed from, as well as a computer to know how and when to change the sugar content, and by how much. You would need something connecting all of the sensors, the computer, the sugar center, and the power. There are so many components that we probably don’t even come close to listing them all here.

To replicate this phenomenon of nature in a machine is so complicated and precise, that it would take months or years to get even close to what nature can do. As we look at this flower as a microscopic portion of God’s creation and it’s vast complexity, we should step back and remember that we are His creation too, and we should find the goodness in everything.

(Find the full article on this amazing discovery here at National Geographic’s website.)

Project Demonstration: RC Cars On Lower Campus

Elementary school students at our Lower Campus received a special treat last Friday when the students of the Foundations of Engineering II class demonstrated their latest project: remote-controlled cars. Utilizing much of the same equipment as the self-driving car project of last semester (i.e. the Vex robotics kits, CAD, and lots of trial and error), three teams of students constructed cars that they operated via a video game controller. After many weeks of hard work, multiple prototypes, and perseverance, the cars could move forwards, backwards, and turn on a dime with rack-and-pinion steering (well, maybe a silver dollar). Each car also had a built-in payload delivery system that deposited a 3D-printed figure at the push of a button, and a rear-wheel differential gearbox to allow for better cornering.

The afternoon’s proceedings began with a brief introduction of the project to the 5th and 6th Grade students, given by the engineering students’ teacher, Mr. Rodney Meadth. Mr. Meadth outlined the goals of the project and recounted some of the difficulties the students faced during the design process.

Mr. Meadth warms up the crowd before the demonstration

During Mr. Meadth’s introduction, the three teams of students worked diligently to set up their cars. As with the self-driving car project, each of the three teams comprised four students, with distinct roles as follows:

  • Team Leader: co-ordinate efforts, give attention wherever needed, be an all-around expert in everything.
  • Mechanical Engineer: primarily responsible for building the physical structure of the robot, mounting sensors, and attaching custom parts.
  • Programmer: working on code that will navigate the robot around the course, incorporating sensor feedback and motor outputs to ensure success.
  • CAD Specialist: design custom parts in a CAD program (all students used Onshape), and then print them out for use in actuality.

Team ESTA makes their final preparations (Eva, Samy, Todd, Alena)

After the introduction, the teams each performed a solo demonstration of their vehicle. The demonstration consisted of navigating a course and delivering the car’s payload to a marked target area on the floor.

First up was Team ESTA, with Eva, Samy, Todd, and Alena. After placing their vehicle at the starting line, the team carefully drove through the course towards the payload drop-off zone. With some slight course adjustments, ESTA managed to successfully deposit their payload, showing off their unique hinged box delivery system. Alena worked for weeks and went through several prototypes to ensure the hinges mated correctly, and could be driven by a VEX motor. Her online CAD file is publicly available here–you can even open and close the box by grabbing the lid with your mouse!

Next came Team JABS (Josh, Alec, Ben, David), whose car intimidated the competition with bright orange, spiked hubcaps and a crimson racing flag bearing their team name. They too successfully navigated the course and delivered the payload, though at a slightly slower pace than that of Team ESTA.
The Team JABS car living up to its team
name with some intimidating spiked hubcaps, designed by Alec

After overcoming some controller connection issues, the final team, JCVC (Jakob, Colby, Victor, Claire), demonstrated their car. JCVC’s vehicle was the simplest of the three, lacking the adornments or sophisticated payload system of the other two competitors, but what it lacked in sophistication, it made up in the form of speed, being the fastest of the three to complete the assigned task.

With the end of the individual demonstrations, came the main event of the day: a race between the three cars around the track to determine which team had built the best remote controlled car. The elementary school students were abuzz with delight as the three teams lined up their vehicles at the starting line. The question on everyone’s mind: Who will be victorious? 

The tension is palpable as the cars take their starting positions
for the race; from left to right: JABS, ESTA, JVCV

With a shout of, “Go!” from Mr. Meadth, the cars raced down the track. However, the chances of victory for one team were extinguished in mere seconds. Team JABS, despite an impressive showing in the individual demonstrations, suffered an immediate steering malfunction that, in spite of their best troubleshooting efforts, ultimately kept them out of the race. The two remaining cars continued to zoom around the track, largely neck and neck for several laps.

In a huge upset, Team JCVC suddenly suffered a critical mishap! As Team JABS attempted to resolve their steering issues on the track, they (accidentally?) managed to ram the “emergency off” button on the side of JCVC! This left only one car still standing, still making consistently strong laps. Team ESTA ended by pulling confidently into the drop-off zone and depositing their payload perfectly, eliciting a roar of applause from the 5th and 6th Grade!

Team ESTA members Samy, Alena, Todd, and Eva revel
in their victory

After the race’s conclusion, Mr. Meadth brought up the winning team and opened the session up to questions from the audience. When asked by one of the Lower Campus students how one goes about making a project of this difficulty, Team Leader Eva encouraged the student to, “always ask for help, be patient, plan stuff out, and don’t be afraid of failure.” Programmer Todd answered a question about the coding process by calling for perseverance amidst “a lot of failures” in order to eventually find success.

The RC car demonstration on Lower Campus was a thrill for all in attendance, from the delighted elementary students to their cheering teachers. Well done to all teams for the many weeks of hard work leading up to this, and especially to Team ESTA!

Space Station Design: Engineers Bring CAD Expertise to Physics Class

In Mr. Hurt’s Physics class, freshmen and sophomore students are currently designing space stations. Pictured here are the printed CAD models of some of those space stations. Note the circular symmetry in each that allows rotational motion to simulate gravity.

Student work from left to right: Todd, Victor, Josh, Alec, Alena

In the past, this project was a mathematical exercise and a simple drawing. This year, thanks to the Engineering Academy, the students were able to go beyond simple drawings and numbers on a page. The Providence engineers took their group’s ideas and sketches and were able to make scale computer models that turned into the beautiful prints above!

Pictured here are three representations of the I.S.S. Dorothy, showing the printed CAD model, a stylized poster, and the station design and organization.

CAD by Alec Marchand
Alec’s printed version, from a CAD file
created in SketchUp
Representating by Katie Gerawan
The stylized representation,
with a cool retro theme!
Jenna Peterson and Eva Kilpper design and parameters
The technical details (click to enlarge)
Each group member was assigned an expertise within the group in one of the following areas:
  • Design & Appearance. Each group presents a detailed scale drawing model along with an artistic representation of their group’s space station.
  • Story. Consistent with the appearance, a short story is written to accompany the space station. This is a foray into science fiction, where both the science and the fiction are given attention.
  • Physical Parameters. After reading an article from NASA, design parameters are identified that would allow long term space travel. Each space station design has detailed calculations showing that the pseudo-gravity experienced on the space station is similar to gravity on Earth. 

By actually making physical models for these space stations, interesting questions arose that would not have otherwise come up. How do you find the volume of these shapes? How many people could live on these space stations?

Left to right: Isaiah, Todd (with Deadlock), Chloe

Pictured above is a group’s final class presentation, entitled “Deadlock.” Isaiah wrote a short story consistent with physics principles and went above and beyond to illustrate the story. Todd developed the CAD representation of the space station based on the parameters that their captain, Chloe, guided the group in developing.

Here is one group’s cover page for their short story about an exploratory vessel looking for colonizable planets.

An advertisement for Orisa, a fictitious colonizable planet,
by Bella

Mr. Hurt loved seeing his students bring art, math, physics, engineering, and teamwork together for this unique project.Thanks to the Providence Engineering Academy for helping bring designs to reality!

Guest Speakers: Patrick Lindsey and John Horton

Last Tuesday, our Foundations of Engineering II class had the privilege of hearing from chief mechanical engineer, John Horton, team manager and driver, Patrick Lindsey, and Lindsay Lindsey, Patrick’s wife, of Park Place Motorsports. Park Place Motorsports is a professional racing team that competes in WeatherTech, a branch of NASCAR devoted to racing sports cars.

John Horton stressing the importance of teamwork in racing.

Mr. Horton recounted his journey to a profession in the racing industry from his childhood fascination with his Erector metal construction sets to a life-changing auto shop program that he joined in high school. He stressed the importance of cooperation when working as an engineer, particularly in a field such as professional racing which combines a multitude of engineering disciplines.  On the matter of cooperation Mr. Horton said, “There’s always something that you don’t know about that you need a network to help you solve. Communication is key.”

Patrick Lindsey explains the art of cornering in a race car.

Mr. Lindsey focused on the driving aspect of the race, showing data gathered from tire sensors during a lap at Daytona Speedway. He related the shape of the graph at a particular instant to what the car was physically doing at that point and talked about the importance of such graphs in making sure that the car was operating at absolute peak performance.

Our guests were also able to relate their profession to our recently (almost!) completed project: the robotic self-driving car. Jakob explained the various elements of his team’s robot to Mr. Horton, such as the drive motor system and the rack-and-pinion steering, and Mr. Horton confirmed that the same features were present on their Porsche, just scaled-up and more advanced.

The Foundations of Engineering II class with their guest speakers.

The Park Place Motorsports Team ended their presentation with an inside-the-car video of a lap around Daytona Speedway and a directive to pursue their passion for science and engineering to wherever it may take them.

We are thankful for the visit from the Park Place Motorsports Team, and wish them luck in their upcoming 24-hour race at Daytona Speedway!