Program To Attract High School Students To Engineering Gains National Attention

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

A partnership between the engineering colleges at the University of Iowa and Iowa State University is attracting national attention for its efforts to encourage high school students to study engineering.

Iowa's Project Lead The Way (PLTW) pre-engineering and engineering technology program is now one of the fastest growing such programs in the country, according to UI and ISU PLTW directors. The PLTW program has grown to more that 60 high schools and middle schools that are slated to participate in the 2007-2008 academic year.

David G. Rethwisch, UI College of Engineering professor of chemical and biochemical engineering and PLTW affiliate director at the UI, said that the program has more than doubled the number of high schools involved in just one year because of the hard work and great interest shown by all parties involved.

Iowa Department of Education officials say they are encouraged by the research supporting the PLTW program. "The research suggests that PLTW curriculum can improve the academic performance of students," says Ken Maguire, educational consultant, Program Development and Information Systems, Iowa Department of Education. "This curriculum has a direct focus on math, science and reading within this technical curriculum which provides the rigor and relevance to education." In light of critical shortages of engineering professionals, Camille Schroeder, PLTW affiliate director at Iowa State University, cites the program as a way to fill the engineering pipeline and give students opportunities to enter engineering fields of study.

Participating schools demonstrate their commitment to the quality standards of the PLTW program by inviting teachers to attend rigorous training sessions during the summer, teaching the PLTW courses using the latest computer software, and maintaining a commitment to ongoing teacher and counselor training during the school year. Regular updating of teacher skills and promoting counselor awareness of the latest PLTW initiatives for students helps ensure the program's success.

The certification process includes a self-assessment of the PLTW program and a one-day site visit by the state leadership team. The team meets with teachers, administrators, counselors, students and community members to review student course portfolios and ensure levels of excellence in schools offering the program.

Rethwisch noted that students can apply for transcripted college credit or other forms of recognition at a variety of national affiliate colleges and universities so long as they demonstrate exemplary work in their pre-engineering courses and pass the appropriate PLTW examination.

Funded by the non-profit Charitable Venture Foundation, Project Lead The Way is a national program offered in more than 900 schools in 42 states to address a national shortage of engineers and engineering technologists.

Project Lead the Way is a four-year curriculum for high school students designed to increase the quality and quantity of engineers and engineer technologists who graduate from engineering schools. The national program involves partnerships among high schools, higher education institutions and the private sector. The University of Iowa and Iowa State University provide training for schools wanting to offer Project Lead the Way curriculum, and businesses provide resources and expertise for teachers.