With some 60,000 products in its portfolio, 3M Corp. is always looking for the next big innovation.

That’s one reason it is heavily involved in supporting science, math and other technology education efforts at the Milford School District since relocating its health care braces plant to Milford about three years ago.

“We rely on science and engineering,” says Don Barnes, human resources manager for the 3M plant that employs about 150.

Barnes is one of the business advisers to Great Oaks Career Campus’ Project Lead the Way pre-engineering program at Milford High School. Project Lead the Way is a national effort providing curriculum for students preparing for engineering and biomedical science careers.

“We need engineers and scientists and we want our communities to get stronger and better. So we get involved,” says Barnes. “For other businesses, it’s the same thing. They want to help the education system where they’re located. We always hear about the U.S. being poor in math scores. Everybody’s getting tired of that. We need to do more. “

Great Oaks, one of the nation’s largest joint vocational districts, provides a variety of career, workforce and economic development services to the 36 school districts it serves across southwest Ohio, and local businesses are a big part of that.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about a program in marketing at Sycamore High School or a business program at Taylor High School, or a manufacturing program at Scarlett Oaks, it’s all based on the reality of being linked into the local business community to validate the curriculum,” says Mike Fritz, dean of satellite programs.

“We need a connection to real engineering. It needs to be relevant,” says Peter Leeper, Project Lead the Way instructor at Milford. “I can make a course hard, but I need to know we’re doing the right thing. That our technology is current and validates what we’re doing.”

3M is one of about 10 area companies, such as Procter & Gamble Co. and General Tool Co. in Reading, who’ve worked with pre-engineering students at Milford by mentoring students, working with them on robot competitions, offering job shadowing and other support.

The Project Lead the Way program at Milford started six years ago with one course and now includes five courses ranging from an introduction to engineering modeling to aerospace engineering and advanced design and development.

Leeper says the program is paying off for students who go on to college.

“The attrition in college engineering is high. But our kids are ready. [The Project Lead the Way] course takes the college prep math and science our students are learning and puts super cool projects with them,” Leeper says.

“I stay in touch with our kids in college and they chuckle how easy some of their college courses are.”