Aligning Public School Education with Opportunities in STEM


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WHAT'S WORKING:

Project Lead the Way helps us understand how to:

+ Equip students with the skills to use complex tools they will need to master to be future professionals in STEM fields

+ Motivate students to learn STEM subjects and provide them with the knowledge and resources they need to succeed

+ Establish a rapidly growing network of schools that are preparing students for careers in technology, engineering, and medicine


If you’re a student in Project Lead the Way, you’re going to know Autodesk Inventor when you get out of high school. That puts you at a huge advantage.
— Jimmy Blevins, assessment specialist at the Arkansas Department of Education

The words “Autodesk Inventor” might not mean much to non-engineers, but this go-to 3D design software is familiar to professionals in areas like architecture, engineering, construction, and manufacturing, some of whom train for years in Autodesk software.

As the Project Lead the Way (PLTW) initiative expands, a growing number of Arkansans will be introduced to Autodesk Inventor as early as high school. As a STEM Works program managed by the Arkansas Department of Career Education, Project Lead the Way prepares students for high-demand jobs. 

PLTW gets pre-engineering and other STEM students on a fast track to college and technical fields by providing hands-on learning experiences with technology in K-12 classrooms. “Every student who goes to college and learns engineering is going to have to learn 3D software,” says Jimmy Blevins, assessment specialist at the Arkansas Department of Education. “If you’re a student in Project Lead the Way, you’re going to know Autodesk Inventor when you get out of high school. That puts you at a huge advantage.” PTLW also offers juniors and seniors opportunities to earn college credit.

PTLW is tailored for students who show an early interest in subjects like engineering but are not engaged in traditional math and science academics. In that respect, PTLW plays a crucial role in reaching students of diverse backgrounds who would otherwise assume that engineering is not for them.

After identifying PLTW as an effective career training strategy, the Governor’s Workforce Cabinet expanded the program in 2012 to 20 sites—11 high schools and 9 middle schools. Since then, PLTW has expanded its support to more than 80 schools statewide. These schools increasingly center attention on the program’s three key areas: Gateway to Technology, Pathway to Engineering, and Biomedical Sciences

Education leaders anticipate that expanding PTLW will lead to the same kind of results the program has produced nationwide, including increasing students’ interest in STEM majors and keeping them in STEM fields throughout college. PTLW says its alumni study engineering and technology at three to four times the average rate of all students. Seventy percent of PLTW seniors say they will study engineering, technology, or computer science in college, compared to the national average of 32 percent. More than 90 percent of seniors plan to obtain a post-secondary degree.