Executive council #8216;leads way#8217; to Collins

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 3, 2006

Before Project Lead the Way, Rock Hill ninth grader Keith Bonzo didn’t know what he wanted to be when he grew up. But after a year in the program, that’s changing.

“It’s been fun, I’ve done stuff in there that I’ve never thought of doing before,” Bonzo said. “Like, I’ve never thought that much about computers, but I’ve learned so much about them … and I have a lot of friends in there.”

While he’s still not completely decided, he said that thanks to the program, he’ll be pursuing a life in engineering.

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Stories like Bonzo’s were at the forefront of the project’s state-wide executive council luncheon, which was hosted by Collins Career Center on Thursday.

PLTW is a national program that forms partnerships among public schools, higher education and private businesses to increase the quantity and quality of students studying engineering.

First developed in the 1980s in an upstate New York school district, PLTW is now offered in over 45 states and the District of Columbia. In its first year in Lawrence County, it’s also experiencing rapid growth, with programs in Dawson-Bryant and Rock Hill and an expansion planned to Ironton High next year.

“It’s growing like crazy, because it’s just fantastic for students,” CCC superintendent Steve Dodgion said. “It makes math and science concepts easier to understand. I’m one of those people who believes that students really want to learn, some of them just learn better outside of the typical classroom setting.”

Officials from the program, like director Kathy Sommers, toured the high schools that are currently involved, as well as Collins Career Center, where much of their work is done. She was impressed, not only by the schools, but by the students like Bonzo who shared their stories with the executive council.

“The most powerful moment was seeing these students get up and talk in a language of mathematics and technology and show the application to an audience that was awed,” Sommers said.

She’s not the only one impressed. Ironton city engineer Phil Biggs said that he thought programs like PLTW could help fill a draught of well-trained engineers, exemplified by how many in the engineering field are foreign born.

“I’m not opposed to those folks, that’s not what I’m saying, but it’s speaking to the fact that we’re not turning out anybody in this country that can fill those positions.

Biggs said he didn’t know that he wanted to be in the engineering field until his senior year of high school, but there’s no telling what could have happened if he had had something like Project Lead the Way.

“This is probably the best preparatory thing I’ve seen. I’m not saying that everybody needs to be an engineer, because that’s the worst thing in the world,” Biggs said. “That’s like saying everybody needs to be alike. It’s just getting them turned on to figuring out what they do want to have.”