There is a critical shortage of graduating engineers of all types at a time when technology is reinventing itself every few years. The accelerating pace of technological change has increased the demand for skilled professionals in a field that already is suffering from declining interest and a high post-secondary attrition rate. This is a major challenge for the United States. The country cannot remain economically competitive when demand for people trained in engineering and engineering technology grows rapidly while the pool of students entering and graduating from programs in these areas declines.
One way to address the challenge is to provide engineering-related educational experiences for students in secondary schools. A promising model for this type of instruction has been developed by Project Lead The Way in upstate New York, with the support and involvement of the Rochester Institute of Technology.
PLTW's mission is to forge a partnership among school districts, universities and industry that will establish and support a pre-engineering education career cluster program in America's high schools. It excites students about engineering careers and strengthens the link between traditional academic programs and hands-on learning experiences. It also helps students reach higher academic standards.
PLTW, a nonprofit corporation, has established a set of goals for its program:
Increase the number of young people who pursue engineering and engineering technology programs that require a four- or two-year college degree.
Offer students a sequence of five pre-engineering courses that will use state-of-the-art equipment and software to prepare them for the rigors of a college program in technology.
Provide clear standards and expectations for student success in the program.
Provide leadership and support that will produce continuous improvement and innovation in the program.
Provide equitable and inclusive opportunities for all academically qualified students.
Reduce the future attrition rates engineering and engineering technology programs.
Contribute to the continuance of America's national prosperity.
Students in the PLTW program currently have the option to earn college credit for two of these courses from RIT.
This program currently is implemented extensively in New York state and already has expanded into 15 other states. It is a comprehensive program, in that it provides school district partners with a fully developed curriculum, an extensive training program for the teachers, mentoring with faculty at member universities, and assistance with materials and supplies acquisitions. RIT has assisted by helping to educate the teachers who implement this program.
In July 1999, RIT hosted a National Summer Training Institute. More than 165 Technology, math and science teachers participated in the training sessions. PLTW plans to expand the training institute to accommodate 300 participants in the summer of 2000. We are also exploring possibilities for offering graduate credit for expanded versions of the summer training classes.
This is clearly a program that is working. It is having a major impact in preparing our youth for careers that are sorely needed in New York state and the nation.
Johnson is a professor in manufacturing and mechanical engineering technology at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, N.Y.