Ahern: How Ridge Academy got a Young Engineers Club
By Patti Ahern Citizen Journalistfirstname.lastname@example.org March 4, 2013 7:10PM
James Fifer (from left), a civil engineer for Milhouse Engineering and Construction; Dawn Milhouse, executive director of Milhouse Charities; Wilbur Milhouse III, engineer and owner of Milhouse Construction and Engineering; and Janice Cardella-Koll, Ridge Academy teacher, pose with students from Ridge Academy. Milhouse Charities recently partnered with the school to help start a Young Engineers Club. | Supplied photo
Updated: April 11, 2013 6:10AM
If the mark of a good teacher is seeing potential in students, then Ridge Academy teacher Janice Cardella-Koll must be earning an A+.
Every day that Cardella-Koll teaches, she looks at her students and sees doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers and any variety of career choices for them, but it was the engineering potential that ignited her energy.
Deciding that her students needed an engineering club, Cardella-Koll searched for a way to fund one and found Milhouse Engineering and Construction — a Chicago business owned by Wilbur Milhouse III, a professional engineer and, as it happens, the father of Melanie, a 2004 Ridge Academy graduate.
Milhouse and his wife, Dawn, make it part of their business plan to support projects that promote education, particularly in the sciences, for young people and minorities. Toward that end, in addition to running an engineering business, the couple also run Milhouse Charities, which provides funds to organizations and individuals.
Cardella-Koll contacted the Milhouses and was excited to learn about the company’s charitable arm that would not only fund the engineering club but would also partner with Ridge Academy, sending engineers to meet with students and help them with their projects and goals.
“I like to focus on potential,” Cardella-Koll said. “We have about 17 students in the classroom, and with the small class size, we are able to individualize and use strategies that work well for all students.
“I was looking to add to the other enrichment activities we already offer — drama, chess, creative writing and math — and thought we needed an engineers club. Milhouse Charities was very good to help us start this program.”
Dawn Milhouse, executive director of Milhouse Charities, said the organization decided to help Ridge Academy establish the club because “as parents, we feel an obligation to invest in youth, particularly children of color, and broaden the awareness of who and what they can be outside of what the media focuses on.
“It takes a whole village. We feel this is our responsibility to help children compete globally,” Dawn said.
James Fifer, a civil engineer and board member with Milhouse Engineering, said he supported the school’s club and wished he had something similar when he was a child.
“When I went to college, I struggled in that first year (in the engineering program),” said Fifer, a resident of Chicago’s Beverly community. “Our challenge is to get these children early and then lend our support through mentoring partnerships.”
Cardella-Koll said the Young Engineers Club will first focus on children in grades four through eight, but later, younger students will be included. The path to inventing will be one of the first concepts the children will explore, she said.
The students will learn the design process that inventors and engineers use to solve a problem, and Cardella-Koll believes that will spark the children’s interest in science, technology, engineering and math. Later, the school will expand into a Lego robotics club that will take part in various competitions.
Wilbur Milhouse, who started his firm in 2001, has offices in Chicago, and Washington, D.C. He said he started his firm based on the concept of “what can be done right” in terms of operating not only a business but accepting social responsibility as well.
“I want to fix things, make things better,” he said. “I knew I always wanted to own my own business and have worked hard to build a strong foundation and reputation. Our firm has a family atmosphere. We believe in it, and we want people to believe in us.”
Cardella-Koll said the engineering club was born out of a love of learning, which is a hallmark of Ridge Academy.
“The school was deigned to provide a safe and nurturing atmosphere but a challenging environment, too,” Cardella-Koll said. “It was time to invest in another fun and challenging club that would use many of the skills that engineers need.
“Math, science and technology are important to Mr. Milhouse, and we are so fortunate that Mr. and Mrs. Milhouse are helping Ridge to form young engineers.”
In an email, Dawn pointed out the importance Milhouse Engineering puts on programs such as the one they funded at Ridge Academy.
“Milhouse Charities exists to support scientific and educational organizations engaged in the fields of math, science, engineering and technology, especially to advance black and minority students,” she wrote. “It also intends to support charitable community-based programs and organizations that benefit people of all ages in the Chicagoland area and beyond.”
Cardella-Koll said the Young Engineers Club is open to all children of the community, not just Ridge Academy students. Interested parents can request more information by contacting email@example.com.
To learn more about Ridge Academy, visit ridgeacademy.org, and to learn more about Milhouse Engineering, 60 E. Van Buren St., visit milhouseinc.com.