Sierra College faculty tour Northstar to apply math to jobs

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Sierra College math faculty recently braved below-freezing temperatures to get a behind-the-scenes tour of what it takes to keep chair lifts operating at Northstar California Resort.

They gathered examples of the mathematics that maintenance technicians apply in their work that can be shared in college classes.

The one-day externship was funded by the Sierra Science, Technology Engineering and Math Collaborative (

To attract more students to science, technology, engineering and math careers, the students need math skills, according to Katie Lucero, Sierra College’s math department chair.

“Through this experience, instructors can provide examples of how mathematics is applied at a ski resort,” Lucero said. “By making math relevant, students are likely to be more engaged and persist in taking the courses they need to complete degrees and secure well-paid technical careers.”

Retired Sierra College mechatronics instructor and Sierra Science, Technology Engineering and Math Collaborative consultant Steve Hunter arranged the tour for Lucero, Vicki Day and Ian Wu, Sierra College math faculty members.

Through the Sierra College Center for Applied Competitive Technologies, Hunter had provided mechatronics training for the Californian Ski Industry Association and knew about lift maintenance.

Bryan Zenker, Northstar lift maintenance technician, gave the tour to math instructors.

“It was great to be able to show the Sierra College math faculty first-hand how the lift maintenance team at Northstar uses the skills they teach in the field,” Zenker said.

Zenker and Hunter provided examples of the math used to design, maintain and repair ski lifts.

“Teachers can use simple geometry to demonstrate calculating the angle of the chair suspended from the cable carrying it up the hill,” Lucero said. “We saw how data was collected and logged daily; basic math computations were used to confirm that the system is running within safety parameters. A much more complicated series of equations would be used by engineers in the design process to determine the weight per chair for the lift system, with and without people, when it is stopped and when it is moving at maximum speed.”

The teachers appreciated the externship, according to Lucero.

“We all brainstormed about how we could use what we saw,” Lucero said. “To give students a context for learning new material, we can share the experience, show students photographs and give examples of actual equations used in the field. I would absolutely recommend that teachers get out to employer sites, see how their subject is used and bring back relevant examples to help students understand how what they are learning applies to the real world.”

The Sierra Science, Technology Engineering and Math Collaborative supports career-technical education programs in manufacturing and product development, and engineering and design pathways at the high school and college level.

For more information, visit or contact Carol Pepper-Kittredge, director for Sierra College Center for Applied Competitive Technologies, at 660-7801 or