There are only three students in the entire state of Georgia who have achieved the highest level in certification in 3D modeling, design concepts and advanced design, and two of them attend Southeast Whitfield High School. 

Rafa Avila and Noel Lopez have been best friends since 8th grade.  After taking one look at Southeast Whitfield’s STEM lab, they could already see their future.

Noel said, "We took a tour of this class, and I knew it would be something I would look forward to, every day."

Now 18, and two months away from graduation, Rafa and Noel are headed for college as certified SolidWorks professionals, the equivalent of four years of college course work. With careers available in engineering, design, and drafting, they’re ready for career level positions now, but they’re aiming higher.

Rafa said, "Businesses need workers who are certified, and I feel the professional, or expert certification will help me as a potential employee."

STEM teacher Ben Oliver says it’s a gift having two students who challenge their peers, and even him.

"I often refer other students to them, and they're glad to help. Their level of certification is higher than mine," he said. "It's a real privilege to have students who are so dedicated."

Earning professional certification while still in high school is almost unheard of. Only one other student in the state of Georgia has done so.  The next step is expert certification, and Oliver says that is within their reach.  These students see the world differently. We see problems, while they see solutions.

Noel said, "Most people only like to focus on one thing, and you can't do that if you're going to solve problems.  Sometimes you just have to start over, and I don't mind doing that."

Their enthusiasm for 3D Modeling, robotics, and drafting is contagious. They love sharing their knowledge with younger students, and Rafa hasn’t ruled out teaching as a future career.

He said, "I've given thought to becoming an engineer, but in education I can inspire students like Mr. Oliver has done for me."

Both Rafa and Noel say they’re grateful to Southeast Whitfield for investing in a STEM lab that has enabled them to earn professional certification in their field, and to likely make expert status. Their teacher says the speed in which they are able to recognize and solve problems is astounding, and they have raised the bar for future engineering students.