CoE takes lead in Project Lead the Way – promoting science in schools

A commitment to furthering science education was what brought 80 Bay Area public school teachers, administrators and corporate partners to campus recently for the annual Project Lead the Way (PLTW) Regional Center Conference. Attendees came from an impressive number of schools – 32 in all – from 25 school districts.

As regional coordinator for nationally acclaimed PLTW, which promotes STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) curricula in middle and high schools, San Jose State University serves approximately 3,000 Bay Area K-12 students enrolled in PLTW classrooms in 11 counties. The PLTW partnership is a key part of SJSU’s Engineering Pathways to Success initiative, established more than three years ago.

“The main goal of the conference was to present how SJSU is motivating K-12 students to learn, explore, and prepare for a future in engineering,” explains Rendee Doré, CoE engineering outreach coordinator. “We also wanted to provide a forum for open communication between the various groups attending. It was apparent from the enthusiastic discussions and responses that our goals were met,” adds Doré.

Participants benefited from hearing two current PLTW instructors and an administrator present their best practices for PLTW implementation. A high school instructor commented, “Learning what worked for other schools and how to overcome obstacles was very beneficial for our school site because we’ll be implementing PLTW next year.”

Two-thirds of teens haven’t considered engineering

Headlining this year’s conference was a presentation from Intel Corp., which emphasized the importance of reaching students in high school, or earlier, to begin nurturing an interest in science. Intel conducted a survey among 1,004 teens to determine their attitudes toward engineering – and the results confirmed this viewpoint.

According to its news release (Dec. 6, 2011), an alarming number of teens – nearly two-thirds (63 percent) – have never considered a career in engineering. When exposed to the facts about engineering, however, more than half say they are more likely to consider an engineering career. After learning what engineers do, teens rate engineering more positively.

Intel’s survey also confirmed the importance of having university engineering students serve as role models and mentors for younger students. CoE has long recognized the value of this concept. Currently, 25 students are actively engaged with middle and high school kids through the college’s Engineering Ambassador Program, and they played a significant role at the conference by welcoming guests and answering questions about engineering and student life.

“That’s why CoE’s work with PLTW is so critical,” says Emily Allen, associate dean of the Davidson College of Engineering. “When students discover what engineers actually do, and how they impact the world, they are more likely to pursue engineering in college, graduate and go on to build successful careers.

“We’re playing a significant role in helping middle and high schools provide a STEM pathway for students. We also value the long-time leadership role of Intel in sponsoring and supporting science programs for young people, and in pursuing this study of teens, which motivates us to intensify our efforts in the schools.”

Corporate sponsors for SJSU’s Engineering Pathways to Success initiative include KLA-Tencor, Xilinx, Aruba Networks, Agilent Technologies, Cisco and Chevron.