Note: This Chamber Viewpoint is focused on education and its impact on our economic future. The chamber board developed an Education Committee to explore and explain the connection between strong schools, prosperous businesses, and flourishing communities. Once a month the Marietta Chamber's Viewpoint column will highlight a specific area, with articles written by a variety of people, who are in business or in the education system.
A bright Marietta High School student desires a career in general engineering. He knows that he will need 90 credit hours of coursework at Washington State Community College in order to receive his associate degree. He is at a significant advantage, however, thanks to a program in his high school which equipped him with 50 credit hours of engineering coursework before he even received his diploma.
Project Lead the Way (PTLW) is a 10-year-old national program created to increase interest in engineering education. PLTW provides an opportunity for high school students at all levels to gain early experience in engineering, architecture, design, and mechanical drafting. The goal of the program is that some of these students will go on to pursue a degree in one of the target fields.
Marietta High School has been involved in PTLW since 2007, shortly after the state of Ohio adopted the PTLW model that was started in New York State. The 2007-2008 school year began with nine students enrolled in one Intro to Engineering Design class. While the number of electives at Marietta High School has dwindled in the last few years due to budget cuts, PTLW electives have expanded. By the fall of 2011, there were 66 students enrolled in three IED classes. There are now 11 different electives that are a part of PLTW, and female students represent half of the class.
The state of Ohio expects high schools to help students become college and career ready, and this program contributes to that initiative. Students taking the Computer Aided Design and Drafting or CADD courses from Marietta High School are employable in a variety of positions around the county at rates well above minimum wage. The program appeals especially to students who do not have the means to pay for post-secondary education.
Marietta students reporting back to the PLTW instructor, Steve Foutty, stated that they were ahead of other freshman in their college classes, they recognized the software and equipment at college, they were able to tutor and assist classmates and they received opportunities they would not have otherwise known of. Several colleges accept the PLTW courses toward degrees, including Ohio State University, Kent State, Ohio University and the University of Cincinnati.
Marietta Middle School has also become involved in PLTW. MMS was awarded a grant to implement the Gateway to Technology program, a feeder program for PLTW. The program includes engineering modules incorporated into seventh and eighth grade science curriculum. Gateway to Technology, taught by Kim Depue, has increased student exposure to a wide variety of technologies, including RoBo Pro software, Inventor software, Vernier Probes, Pupil Cams and handheld GPS units. Special projects this year feature seventh graders building mousetrap vehicles and Rube Goldberg Machines. Eighth-graders will tackle thermodynamics, electricity and circuit boards, and build working roller coaster prototypes.
Currently, all of the PTLW classes are taught by Foutty. There are a total of 19 course offerings each day, and Foutty has given up his planning period for the last four years to incorporate additional classes. The program is heading toward another expansion, but this cannot be accomplished without another teacher. Adding a teacher will take time, training and money - resources that many schools currently struggle to find. But the benefits of PTLW extend far past the classroom into the engineering industry, the community, and beyond.
Written by Tasha Werry, with contributions from Steve Foutty and Kim Depue. Chamber Viewpoint appears every other Monday on Opinion.