What started out as a task force in 2006 to find a solution for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education in the K-12 sector has become a program for middle school and high school students known as Project Lead the Way. It is a program that opens the door of option and opportunity, and informed choice, for Kentucky families who may otherwise have overlooked engineering, or any other STEM option, for their students.
“The university firmly believes in the importance of the advancement of pre-engineering education and fully stands behind the organization as a Project Lead the Way affiliate and university support.” Dr. Thomas Lester, Dean of the College of Engineering.
Director of PLTW, Dianne Leveridge says, “As an engineer, I see and recognize the relevance, rigor and preparation PLTW provides to middle and high school students. PLTW is designed for the middle 60 percent of students who are unsure of their postsecondary choice, prepares students well for whatever choice they make and provides a way for them to develop skills they might otherwise miss, as well as open the possibilities to solving real-world problems.”
Through problem solving based on contextual learning curriculums in a fun and exciting way, interest in education and innovation is stimulated in what could be future freshmen on the UK campus. “The university firmly believes in the importance of the advancement of pre-engineering education and fully stands behind the organization as a PLTW affiliate and university support,” says Dr. Thomas Lester, Dean of the College of Engineering.
It is because of this strong belief within the university community that in July 2007, University of Kentucky President, Dr. Lee Todd signed a contract with Project Lead the Way establishing the University of Kentucky College of Engineering as the PLTW Affiliate University for the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The responsibilities of an affiliate university include education, credit and quality. The university prepares teachers to teach the curriculum; provides undergraduate credit for the PLTW secondary students, as well as graduate credit opportunities for the teachers who are trained; and also insures that the quality of the program and curriculum is maintained via the national certification process.
Additional support includes programs such as the Gateway Academy, where the Society of Manufacturing Engineers Education Foundation reaches out to younger students by sponsoring summer camps conducted at various venues across the country each summer to provide a brief exposure to some of the projects in the PLTW curriculum. In the summer of 2010, the first Gateway Academy was held at UK where 80 students from around the area were in attendance.
Another program within PLTW is the inaugural Innovation Summit, which was held last fall on October 20, 2010. This annual summit was designed with the students in mind as collaborative forums were held, in-depth panel discussions took place and interactive activities and breakout sessions opened up the world of creativity to aspiring engineers, mathematician, and scientists from all over the country. The summit was an outlet for discussion on STEM education, leading technologies, effective teaching methods, electronic assessments and so much more.
One of PLTW’s main goals, with the summit and its program in general, is to form partnerships with various schools as well as individuals and corporations in industry in order to prepare diverse groups of students for success in engineering and engineering technology programs. The show-stopping event at the summit is a culminating robotics competition among the schools in attendance.
The Commonwealth of Kentucky had two schools in the PLTW Top 20: Trigg County High School and Scott County High School (SCHS). From SCHS four seniors were in attendance along with their teacher, Jean Porter, and their school superintendent, Patricia Putty. SCHS was named a PLTW Model School, one of only 10 in the nation, out of approximately 4000 PLTW high schools in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
“Their recognition as a model school is a direct result of the quality of their program, their teachers, and their administration. The students who graduate from Scott County High School PLTW courses are some of the best students. Further, Scott County credits PLTW with reducing its district dropout rate from about 25% to zero over three years,” says Leveridge.
These determined students competed in the VEX Robotics competition, never having used VEX equipment before and ended up winning in their division. Unlike other schools that were able to prepare in advance, SCHS experienced engineering problem-solving in real time by burning the midnight oil and strong team collaboration.
The students were:
Isaac Allen – who plans to study computer engineering at UK in the fall.
Mitch Lyon – who wants to study nuclear (power) engineering.
Campbell Revlett – who plans to study civil engineering at UK next year.
Karaline Wood – who plans to study pharmacy at UK
As part of their prize, the group of students won their registration for the VEX National competition held at Disney World in Orlando, FL on April 14 – 16, 2011 where they attended and represented SCHS, PLTWKY and the Commonwealth of Kentucky as a whole.
In regard to the future, UK’s goals include expansion of PLTW into every district, middle school and high school across the state. According to Leveridge, “If Kentucky wants to become more competitive in the innovation zone of the future we have to teach our students how to think critically, think logically and break a problem into smaller pieces. These skills apply regardless of a student’s chosen career path, so PLTW stands to benefit all students in a myriad of ways.”
For more information on how you can become involved or if you know a student looking for an innovative outlet in a technical atmosphere, please contact Dianne Leveridge, Director for Project Lead the Way Kentucky.
Director for Project Lead the Way Kentucky