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UNL Durham School professor coordinates Project Lead The Way gathering to promote STEM learning in Nebraska schools

More than 100 Nebraska public schools educators attended a day-long session, Sept. 30, to launch the state’s widespread participation in Project Lead The Way, a national K-12 initiative in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. Leaders from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the University of Nebraska at Omaha pledged their partnership in PLTW efforts.

Stuart Bernstein, Nebraska’s PLTW affiliate director and a professor with UNL’s Durham School of Architectural Engineering and Construction, facilitated the session and forged connections between Nebraska schools and Project Lead The Way’s regional leader, Ken Maguire.

Maguire told the group that for educators enhancing STEM learning, Project Lead The Way can be a focal point to build upon. He said PLTW has trained 13,000 teachers and 350,000 students nationwide. Presentations at this meeting also included students from Lincoln Public Schools; McMillan Magnet Center, a middle school; and Omaha North Magnet High School—programs currently affiliated with PLTW. The students described their PLTW-generated activities, from building rollercoaster models using schematics to researching and testing innovative cookstove designs and materials for third world nations.

Maguire said the PLTW goal is to engage one million students and 10,000 schools by the 2015-16 school year.

The Omaha teachers working with PLTW agreed its summer training sessions are rigorous, with a tier of courses focused on foundations of engineering, followed by a tier of engineering specialization courses and a “capstone” tier. The curricula can be applied as a middle school "gateway to technology" and/or a high school "pathway to engineering." Participating teachers present said the commitment proves worthwhile in helping schools to grow the pipeline of STEM-inclined students with many pursuing their higher education and, later, careers in Nebraska, generating economic benefit for the state.

During the meeting, Gary Hamer with Nebraska's Department of Economic Development presented the agency’s most recent economic development report, citing the need for Nebraska to “create stronger linkages” between industry, research and development, and education. Hamer said his agency wants to take what educators are doing with STEM learning and “tie that into the right jobs” through initiatives with the state’s Department of Labor on workforce cluster areas (such as “bio-solutions”), talent and innovation.

Representatives of Iowa community colleges offered their experiences in working with PLTW school programs transitioning STEM-focused students into skills development for jobs in renewable energy, which has become a growth industry in some areas of the state.

Educators ended the day with discussions on overcoming challenges in starting new PLTW programs at their schools and forming collaborations between schools and their local community colleges. Learn more about PLTW for Nebraska at http://www.pltw.org/.