Project Lead the Way Fosters Rise in N.C. High School Engineering

Amanda Stone, a PLTW teacher at Olympic High School in Charlotte, N.C., creates isometric drawings of her design project using Autodesk Inventor software in Duke's PLTW course Intro to Engineering Design.

High school teachers from around the nation brushed up on their engineering skills through a 2-week “boot camp” offered through Duke’s affiliation with Project Lead the Way (PLTW), a national pre-engineering program designed to help students prepare for college engineering coursework and build excitement for careers in engineering.

The goal of the PLTW program is to bring a series of nine engineering courses into high schools or, in some cases, middle schools. The organization got its start in New York in 1997 and now can be found in almost every state. Each state’s program relies on a single university affiliate to encourage further growth of the program and to help train schoolteachers, who in most cases do not have any engineering background.

“PLTW is about inspiring students from all walks of life to study engineering –— even if that means taking another math class–— and giving them that opportunity,” said Nancy Shaw, Duke affiliate director of the program.

PLTW teachers pulverize soil before sifting it to separate particles of different sizes. The percentage of fine sands, silts, clays and other soil aggregates allows civil engineers to determine whether a building site can support a pending structure.

Before teachers can offer a given PLTW course, they are required to attend an intensive training session at a university affiliate school within their state or in another state. This year, Shaw offered 44 teachers, including 10 from North Carolina, their choice of four PLTW course trainings: Gateway to Technology, Introduction To Engineering Design, Digital Electronics and Civil Engineering and Architecture. Last year, PLTW teachers were offered one course at Duke.

When Duke signed on with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction to become the state PLTW affiliate in 2003, four high schools within the state were offering PLTW courses. With Shaw’s encouragement, that number has grown to 23. Another eight have shown interest in joining this fall, she said, and her standing goal is to add on approximately 10 new PLTW schools per year.

One of those recent acquisitions is the North Carolina School of Science and Math in Durham, Shaw said. Durham County’s Riverside High was one of the original four PLTW schools. She hopes to see more schools in the local community get involved in the near future, she added.

Find out more about PLTW in North Carolina here.