Great Minds-Great Accomplishments
Because the legacy of a poor farm boy met the ideas of a forward thinking engineer and educator, childrenâ€™s lives and maybe our country were changed. In all 50 states and the District of Columbia, school children are being enabled and encouraged to put America in the lead of developments in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The organization carrying out this important work is Project Lead the Way (PLTW). In the early 1980â€™s, PLTW was only a concept, now, over 4200 schools are participating. To date, more than a half million students in the U.S. have taken at least one PLTW course.
The farm boy, Herbert Liebich, grew up to found Sysco Foods, Inc. a $29 billion service supplier. After his success, he formed Charitable Venture Foundation (CVF), a foundation described as High-Engagement Philanthropy.Â This means the foundation involves itself not only with funding but also with engagement throughout the structure of the organization. The result is a self-sustaining, highly successful, accountable institution.
Blais, former vice president of PLTW, had an idea born out of experience in engineering and education.Â He recognized in the early 1980â€™s that in the future the U.S. would need an increasing number of engineering professionals. Those engineers would develop only if students in middle and high schools were introduced early on to science, technology, engineering and mathematics and the practical applications of those disciplines.
Blais developed a pre-engineering curriculum at Shenendehowa Central High School in Clifton Park, New York.Â Through the scientific method of developing, testing and reviewing, Blais and his staff began creating courses that incorporated the skills needed in the emerging high technology engineering world. In 1998, 12 high schools in upstate New York began using that curriculum. Their first postsecondary partner was the Rochester Institute of Technology.
As Blais was championing his idea, Richard Liebich, a member of Herbert Liebichâ€™s family and the CEO of CVF, saw PLTWâ€™s potential and helped secure an initial grant and on-going funding. The legacy and the idea were now combined. With the high-engagement philanthropy of CVF, in 1997, PLTW became an independent not-for-profit organization.
PLTW expands as scientific knowledge is discovered and developed.Â In 2007, a Biomedical Sciences Program was introduced.Â Energy was introduced in late 2010, within the Middle School curriculum. PLTW will continue to expand as needed.
PLTW for the Future
The PLTW curriculum is available to students by virtue of educating teachers in this hands-on curriculum. The hands-on approach is the single most important element responsible for the great success of PLTW. The U.S. will need scientists and engineers in its effort to compete in a global economy. Â Today, PLTW is endorsed by national associations, belongs to educational partnerships, can rely on strong government relationships and employs its own marketing and communications group to produce its educational materials.