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COLUMBIA HEIGHTS, Minn. -- "I cut it way too short," exclaimed an 8th grader rushing to put the final touches on her team's presentation.

These are engineering studentsin Columbia Academy's engineering program, who are working on designs that could literallychange the face of the school.

"We've gone from Central Middle School to Columbia Academy," said engineering teacher Angel Brown. That lead to a decision to update the school's entrance, and a contract with an architectural firm.

What happened then, was opportunity for Central Academy's students.

"As we were meeting last year, I thought, 'We've got our engineering class, wouldn't it be great if our kids could participate in this project?'" said principal Mary Bussman.

MLA Architects, lead by Mark Lenz, agreed to listen to the student's ideas. More than that, Lenz and his colleagues went into the classroom to meet with students and walk them through the process of designing and presenting a project to a client.

"They gave them real feedback and they said, 'We're going to come in and you're going to present to us,'" said Brown. "So we went back to the very foundation of what this class is about, which is solving a problem."

That meant students not only had to come up with ideas for a new front for the building, but also how to present those ideas. Would they use a poster board? 3-D model? Google Sketch-Up?

"If they like it, and our idea, if it's in budget, it could get used for the front of the school," explained 8th grader Hannah Miller.

Brown and co-teacher Emily Christianson had to find their way through the process, just as their students did. "There was no script," said Brown.

The one thing they did determine early on, was that students would form teams that would present their concept to a panel of MLA Architects, the school district superintendent, the building manager and others who would actually be working with the building re-design.

Brownalso brought in her 7th engineering students to help critique the presentations, andlearn from the experience.

"It's kind of scary and nerve wracking," said 8th grader Melat Ashagre. "I've never done this before."

As students unveiled their work, Lenz and other on the project offered up praise and questions. Nerves were visible, but so was pride.

Hannah Miller and her team high-fived each other after their presentation. Team member Adan Castillo admits he was "stressed," but for him the bottom line was the reaction from the panel.

"I think they liked it. that's what counts for me."

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