Vicenza High School web design teacher leads way for new generation
March 27, 2013
VICENZA, Italy- Lori Encke initially thought she was heading toward a career in the business world, until she found out she was a natural born teacher. A native of Arcadia, Fla., Encke pursued a degree in accounting, planning to become a certified public accountant, when a senior-year project at University of Southern Florida steered her toward the path of the pedagogue.
Conducting a senior year research project that compared her choice to that of her sister, who pursued a career as a physics teacher, she discovered that teaching might be a better option. The career aptitude test data and her gut feeling kept pointing clearly in one decisive conclusion: she should teach.
"It was sink or swim," said Encke.
She started out teaching at Alonso High School in Tampa, Fla., and then moved on to a position with the Hillsborough County school district as a research teacher for staff development, basically charged with bringing teachers up to speed on the proliferation of technology in education, where she found herself at the forefront of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, integration in the classroom.
Though she has a background in business law and accounting she has never taught the subject, but has been a part of the advent of STEM in secondary schools from the beginning.
"They wanted me to be the pilot," Encke said. "Tech was not around me. The Internet came out when I was in high school. It's neat how they're looking at things differently. Now they get it," she said.
Encke has been at Vicenza High School for the past three years, where she is a computer science teacher and chairperson of the VHS technology committee. Her classroom emphasis is on web design.
"Actually, when I got here nobody wanted to take computer courses," she said.
My, how things have changed. The transition came in part from making instruction more hands-on and refining classes, tailoring them to the interests of students, she said.
"They started with engineering classes. The biggest difference I notice is our classes used to be almost a dumping grounds," said Encke.
In the intervening years technology and STEM have become bona fide pillars of the core curriculum. "It's been pushed. People want to take these courses. That's where the future is, that's where the demand is. It's so engrained in our curriculum now," she said.
DoDDS schools have been in the vanguard of creating the 21st-century, wired classroom and education model, and her students are among the prime beneficiaries, said Encke.
"We offer way more technology than any other school I've been in. The coolest thing about it is they have to take two full credit hours of career and technology education to graduate," she said.
Students take to technology the way they take to any field, as individuals, she noted.
"I've noticed a lot of kids find a niche for themselves, for the coding niche or they're going into the programming side or the network management world. The biggest impact is making them aware of the opportunities available," she said.
"My web design class is predominantly female while the digital media is mostly boys. These girls here are so impressive. It just clicks with them," said Encke.
She tailors subject matter to her students' needs and interests, and it continues to evolve over time.
In another sign of the changing times, Encke will lead 24 students from the VHS chapter of the Future Business Leaders of America to the annual Leadership Conference in Garmisch, Germany, at the end of the March. Each student will compete in a minimum of four areas that range from digital video production and website design to online gaming simulation and business ethics.
Parents are often impressed, though they may not understand just what it is their children have mastered, she said.
"The hardest part is if the parents don't understand it, it's hard to support them (their children)," Encke said.
Parents should encourage their children to try something new, to move outside their comfort zones, because they'll never know what's out there, or what excites them, until they try, she said.
Which sounds a bit like how she herself wound up as a tech teacher and a role model for the young women in her classes.
"I think being a woman teaching the technology and being on the same level of the boys with their programming, that in itself sets a precedent. Just having a woman teacher. They come to me and the girls see that. I think that's really cool," she said.