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Leading the Way for a Better Future
For Jim Mecklenburg, Minnesota Project Lead the Way (PLTW) program director, PLTW is not just about a job. It’s not just about sharing the curriculum with Minnesota schools. For Mecklenburg, PLTW is the way to educate the students who are the future of our state, our nation and our world.
Mecklenburg’s passion for hands-on education began early on. Raised in New Ulm, Minnesota, he was a student who learned best by doing hands-on projects. He rolled his passion for “doing” into a career and began working as a carpenter. He later became a teacher and, in 1999, began working with the Minnesota Department of Education. “That was where I learned about PLTW,” said Mecklenburg. “I knew it was right for Minnesota and I made it my personal and professional goal to bring PLTW to Minnesota schools.”
PLTW entered Minnesota schools in 2002 with only six schools statewide using the curriculum. Now, PLTW is in nearly 230 middle and high schools throughout Minnesota.
Mecklenburg’s grandson Colton attends one such school. Last school year, as a seventh-grader, Colton was exposed to PLTW and began building a CO2 car through his classes. At the end of the year, he showed Mecklenburg the car and detailed the processes of designing, building and evaluating.
It is these success stories that help Mecklenburg find meaning behind what he does. “Success begets success,” he said. “And if students find success in middle schools then they can move on and they see their career pathways. I believe so strongly in the positive effects that PLTW brings to students.”
The positive effects start with the partnerships between schools and industry. A strong partnership is one of the key aspects of a successful PLTW program, according to Mecklenburg. In middle school, business partners may judge competitions, like Colton’s CO2 car. But, in high school, business partners become even more critical, serving on advisory boards and helping to determine which specialty courses the school will offer.
Mecklenburg gives the example of Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM). Manufacturers are saying it’s a course that needs to be taught but has been cut from schools. PLTW brings back these elements to our education systems.
“PLTW is hands-on learning,” said Mecklenburg. “That’s the way the real world works. Instead of ‘traditional’ education, you are encouraging students to be involved and look at the problem and the challenges … all while using the math, science and communication skills. It’s all intertwined with PLTW.”
“The PLTW curriculum is designed and delivered within the national academic standards,” explained Mecklenburg. Currently, are efforts underway to help identify the Minnesota academic standards that are delivered and supported through PLTW in both middle and high school courses. “You see the problem, but you never see the application,” he said. “My grandson knew the math calculations because he saw the application in building his car. All those concepts—he was immersed in and absorbing them without realizing it.”
Exposing Students to Careers
“If I had a wish, I would have all middle school students take PLTW courses because it gives them an understanding of how things work, while exposing them to careers,” said Mecklenburg. He notes that today’s elementary and middle school students will work in careers we cannot predict. The skills PLTW teaches students and the understanding they develop will help them succeed in these unknown career paths. “I look at my five grandchildren,” he said, “and they all have cell phones or toys that are interactive and make noise. You can see how we are exposing them to technology. They may not understand it but, at some point, they need to understand how those technologies work.”
Mecklenburg’s commitment to PLTW is more than just a position. It’s a passion for the future of our nation and the future success of his grandchildren, and their children after that. “As parents and grandparents we want what is best for our children and grandchildren,” said Mecklenburg. “I know in my heart and mind that PLTW is right for my grandchildren because I have seen the success in Minnesota schools and other schools across the nation.”
Rachel England is a contributing writer for Minnesota Precision Manufacturing Association.
Copyright © 2012 Minnesota Precision Manufacturing Association. For permission to use or reprint this article please contact Amy Slettum, publications manager for Precision Manufacturing journal.
MANKATO — A few hundred Latino high school students from around the state came to Minnesota State University Monday to get a taste of science and engineering, and to see if pursuing a career in either would suit their desires.
If a few of them pursue science, the conference will have been worth it. But for the Latino students, the battle just to get to college, much less excel in science or engineering, is one that begins well before a student steps onto a college campus for freshman year.
“A lot of Latino students drop out in high school,” said Guadalupe Quintero, director of Latino Affairs at MSU.
Monday’s conference, called Latino Engineering and Academic Day, gave them access to positive role models, MSU engineering students and faculty, and advice on how best to make sure they can get into college.
From The Free Press, Mankato, MN, February 28, 2011 by Robb Murray, Free Press Staff Writer. For the complete story, see Tuesday’s print edition or e-edition.
From Editorial, The Free Press, Mankato, MN, March 4, 2011.
To Minnesota State University for hosting Latino Engineering and Academic Day this week. The event was put on by the Minnesota Center for Excellence in Manufacturing and MSU’s Latino Affairs Office. The focus of the day was to provide Latino high school students from southern Minnesota with a glimpse of science and engineering, as well as offer advice on how to get into college.
The importance of reaching those students is evident when considering the high school graduation rate for Latinos, which is about 48 percent. Of that number, only a portion go on to college. Nationally, of the estimated nearly 50 million Hispanics in the U.S., only about 13 percent have a college degree.
For many Latino families, the idea to forgo college for the sake of the family is culturally acceptable. This week’s workshop even addressed how to educate parents about how higher education can be financially manageable with the help of aid, grants and scholarships.
Encouraging Latino students to pursue higher education makes sense for their future and for the future of our area communities.
Organization Works to Strengthen Math and Science Education
DENVER, June 18 /PRNewswire-USNewswire
The Education Commission of the States (ECS) is pleased to award Project Lead The Way(R) (PLTW) the 2009 ECS Corporate Award. The tribute honors for-profit corporations or non-profit organizations with sustained commitment to and investment in improving public education. The award will be presented by Minnesota Governor and ECS Chair Tim Pawlenty as part of the 2009 National Forum on Education Policy, July 8-10 in Nashville, Tenn.
Collaborating with schools, industry, state government and universities, PLTW works to build future generations of successful engineers and technology savvy graduates. PTLW supports a series of middle and high school courses that are project-centered, problem-based and technology-integrated, preparing students to excel in high-tech fields. With rigorous and relevant context tied to national standards, the program responds to a common student question: “Why do I have to learn this?”
“This is a perfect example of a public/private partnership engaging and challenging students to apply their skills and knowledge to real life situations,” notes ECS President Roger Sampson.
Project Lead The Way leadership believe that when schools apply activities and problem-based learning, they generate an “increase in student motivation, an increase in cooperative learning skills, higher-order thinking and an improvement in student achievement.” Research has shown this to be true. According to an evaluation by High Schools That Work, PLTW students scored significantly higher in both mathematics and science high school assessments. The National Center for Education Statistics 2006-07 True Outcomes report explains that students who participate in PLTW are five times more likely to graduate college as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) majors than those who do not.
The organization was started in the 1980s in upstate New York by Richard Blais and Richard Liebich, becoming an independent not-for-profit organization in 1997. Today, the program is expanding across the country with an eye to new and engaging curriculum.
“We are extremely honored to receive this award, particularly at a time when our country needs a new generation of innovators to remain economically competitive in the 21st century global economy,” said John Lock, CEO of Project Lead The Way. “We remain committed to attracting more students to science, math, engineering and tech fields in the coming years by expanding the reach of PLTW’s critical-thinking and project-based curriculum to more schools around the country. By helping students apply what they learn in math and science to innovation and real life problem-solving, we can create America’s next “Innovation Generation’ and regain our economic competitive advantage.”
The Education Commission of the States (ECS) is the only nationwide, nonpartisan interstate compact devoted to education. ECS helps governors, legislators, state education officials and others identify, develop and implement public policies to improve student learning at all levels. A nonprofit organization, ECS (www.ecs.org) was formed in 1965 and is located in Denver, Colorado.
Project Lead The Way(R) is a national 501c3, not-for-profit educational program that helps give middle and high school students the rigorous ground-level education they need to develop strong backgrounds in science and engineering. For more information, please visit: http://www.pltw.org.
SOURCE Education Commission of the States Mary Ann Strombitski, +1-303-299 3609, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Ashley Zaleski +1-303-299-3698, email@example.com, both of the Education Commission of the States
Minnesota’s Centers for Excellence which include the Center for Engineering & Manufacturing Excellence, have been awarded continuing funding for fiscal years 2010 and 2011. Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs Linda Baer announced in a memo date June 3, 2009 that the Centers will be funded at approximately $4M, reflecting a 12% funding reduction from past awards. “My expectation is this funding level will assist each Center in maintaining momentum and the current and planned initiatives presented earlier this year by each Center of Excellence,” states Baer.
“This funding will allow the Center to continue to move forward with strategic initiatives that support Minnesota’s industry sector,” says Dr. Ronald Bennett, Executive Director for the Center. “Building an educated, technically skilled pool of workers is critical to Minnesota’s economic success both nationally and globally. Our goal is to increase that pipeline flow across the full spectrum of people pursuing STEM careers.”