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July 18, 2006
CONTACT: Ron Podell
Ron Podell@emich.edu

EMU, Project Lead the Way join forces to increase enrollment in engineering programs

YPSILANTI - Eastern Michigan University has been designated as the lone Michigan school to deliver the national Project Lead the Way (PLTW) program, aimed at generating earlier interest in engineering from students and meeting the state’s need for more engineers.

“There is a strong demand for engineers in southeastern Michigan, even with GM, Ford and Chrysler downsizing,” said Robert Brewster, human resource manager with Ford Motor Co. and a member of PLTW’s Michigan Advisory Committee. “There is still a demand, with technical centers coming into the area, for newly minted engineers as well as experienced engineers.”

“We see this as an excellent way to market our programs and increase student enrollment in engineering and engineering technology programs at EMU,” said Paul Kuwik, director of EMU’s Centers and Institutes, and a professor in the School of Technology Studies.

PLTW, a national, nonprofit training program based in Clifton, N.Y., has developed a four-year sequence of courses which, when combined with college preparatory mathematics and science courses in high school, introduces middle and high school students to engineering and prepares them for postsecondary engineering studies.

First developed in the 1980s, PLTW is now offered to approximately 200,000 students at 1,763 schools in 46 states and the District of Columbia, said Robert Dorn, director of university initiatives for PLTW.

“Most (high school) science programs have eliminated (lab) experimentation. Science, for the most part, is still being taught as memorization and regurgitation,” Dorn said. “Our curriculum is complete. We provide students with applicable activities to solve real-life problems and we have a teaching pedagogy geared to motivate kids.”

Introduction of engineering courses at the middle school and high school levels will attract more students — including underrepresented groups — to engineering and give those students an opportunity to determine if engineering is their career interest, Dorn said.

The preparation also would significantly cut the number of students who begin college as engineering majors, but ultimately drop out of the program or change majors. The national dropout rate between the freshman and sophomore years in college engineering programs is about 60 percent, with only about a 40 percent retention rate,  Dorn said.

“I think we’ll see an increase in students enrolling in our engineering programs,” said Phil Cardon, an EMU associate professor of technology education and a member of the advisory committee. “We’re getting interest not only in Michigan, but we have students coming to EMU from Wisconsin and New York because they heard about PLTW.”

Four EMU faculty have or are currently taking summer training at the Rochester Institute of Technology to learn the core engineering courses developed by PLTW. These courses include: “Principles of Engineering,” “Introduction to Engineering Design,” “Digital Electronics,” ‘Computer Integrated Manufacturing” and “Gateway to Technology.”

“We do have a commitment from our college that this is important for the University,” said Cardon, who will be trained to teach the “Principles of Engineering” course.

Once trained, EMU faculty will provide PLTW training sessions on campus this winter for middle school and high school education math, science and technology teachers. Currently, 25 middle and high schools in Genesee and Wayne counties are on board to use the PLTW curriculum, Kuwik said.

“We need to put forward teachers who want to inspire students in engineering and engineering technology. We have the talent,” said Karl Klimek, vice chairman and project coordinator for the Convergence Education Foundation and who has an education degree from EMU. The foundation provided a $36,000 equipment grant for PLTW training.

Until November 2005, Ferris State University was the state university designated to provide PLTW training. EMU applied for the state designation and received it, Dorn said. The PLTW determined that EMU could effectively perform the duties of an affiliate for Michigan, he said. Kettering University in Flint has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding to assist EMU’s PLTW program with recruiting middle schools to adopt the PLTW program, and to help with teacher training when necessary.

Eastern Michigan University is a public, comprehensive university that offers programs in the arts, sciences and professions. EMU prepares students with the intellectual skills and practical experiences to succeed in their career and lives, and to be better citizens.

Editor's Note: Looking for an expert source for a story? Check out EMU's Eastern Experts online at www.emich.edu/univcomm/easternexperts.

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