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Summer 2005 • Volume 11, Issue 3

Leading the way for the engineers of tomorrow

by Aimee Roy

Lead the waySay goodbye to the old stereotypes. Gone are the days of the introverted pocket-protector-wearing, slide rule-wielding engineer. Today’s engineers are likely to be found using computer simulations and working on team-based projects. Communication skills have become just as important as math skills.

With all of the advances and interesting jobs available in engineering and technology today, it would seem that students would be lining up to take advantage of the endless opportunities and high salaries. The problem is, many students do not understand what engineers really do.

Today, more than half of the country’s engineers and scientists are approaching retirement, and more than half of the students in college engineering programs drop out before graduation, leaving the U.S. technical industries with a critical shortage and in need of more than one million new engineers and technical workers.

Project Lead the Way (PLTW) may have the solution. A national non-profit organization, PLTW helps schools give students the knowledge and skills they need to excel in high-tech fields. PLTW promotes pre-engineering courses for middle and high school students by forming partnerships with schools, higher education institutions, and the private sector to increase the number, quality, and diversity of graduating engineers and technologists. The program also allows students the chance to find out if engineering is the career for them before they spend thousands of dollars on college courses, and high school students can earn college credit for their work.

The program operates in 30 states, with Bradley as a participating university. Nationally, almost 1,000 high schools participate in the program. PLTW offers two programs which are taught in conjunction with core courses or college preparatory math and science courses and adhere to national standards in science, technology, and math. Comprehensive, ongoing training is available for teachers and career counselors.

“Project Lead the Way originated in New York in 1997,” said Richard L. Greene MA ’71, Bradley Engineers for Tomorrow program coordinator. “High schools are now coming on board in great numbers in many states, especially California and Illinois.”

The Kern Family Foundation, formed in 1998 through a gift from Robert and Patricia Kern, engineers and owners of Generac Power Systems, Inc., is a major funding source for the PLTW curriculum at Bradley and nationwide. Participating schools receive a three-year grant to pay for software, professional development, and equipment for the program. The foundation works with Bradley to identify Illinois high schools who will implement PLTW curriculum. Bradley acts as the facilitator, assisting the schools with registration, obtaining funding, and selecting courses to add or modify.

“The Kerns are highly successful engineers who fear that not enough highly trained engineers will be ready to take America into the future,” said Greene.

“As the network of participating schools grows, the community becomes more aware of the opportunities available through Bradley’s engineering program,” said Greene.

For more information about the PLTW program, visit www.bradley.edu/cegt/eft/pltw.html.

 

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