Creating a STEM grid for advanced manufacturing education

Steady growth and measured funding of more than $5 million in five years to create a STEM grid supporting advanced manufacturing education is being realized by the SME Education Foundation and its partner, Project Lead The Way


Steady SME Education Foundationgrowth and measured funding of more than $5 million in five years to create a STEM grid supporting advanced manufacturing education is being realized by the SME Education Foundation and its partner, Project Lead The Way (PLTW). Simple and efficient, the Foundation is working to change public perception of manufacturing and has been successful in encouraging talented young people to challenge themselves and pursue a career in advanced manufacturing.

“Incremental and strategic funding has been critical to our creation of a STEM grid,” says Bart A. Aslin, chief operating officer, SME Education Foundation. “We respect Project Lead The Way for its organizational discipline and curriculum and are impressed with the return on our investment. Our organizations have been very successful in devising new ways to engage students.”

A STEM-based curriculum is core to SME Education Foundation funded programs. It has worked with Project Lead The Way since 2006. The PLTW Gateway Academy, a summer day camp for 6th-8th graders, boys and girls, introduces students to drafting and graphic design allowing them to use real lab equipment in a team environment, Students build robotic vehicles and gliders and learn about eco-design, manufacturing and alternative energy while having fun doing it. In 2010, nearly 4,200 students attended the Gateway Academy in 34 states.

The PLTW curriculum path is focused and well-managed. Building on their summer camp technology experience, students are introduced to the Gateway to Technology program in the classroom. As they progress into high school, the Pathway to Engineering program introduces Engineering Design, Principles of Engineering and Digital Electronics and Specialization courses which includes Aerospace Engineering, Biotechnical Engineering, Civil Engineering and Architecture, and Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM).

With the realignment of a global economy, the increased demand for skilled workers with a STEM education has increased, especially for jobs in the advanced manufacturing sector. Responding to the needs of industry, in 2010, the Foundation began directing a major portion of its funding to Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM) upgrades at PLTW high schools across the country. The course is designed to expose young learners to the fundamentals of computerized manufacturing technology and is built around several key concepts: Computer Modeling, CNC Equipment, CAM Software, Robotics and Flexible Manufacturing Systems.

SME Education Foundation 2010 funding included $815,000 for implementing the Gateway Academy program at an additional 220 schools and an upgrade to the Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM) course equipment in 65 PLTW high schools.

On February 28, the SME Education Foundation announced an additional $400,000 funding for implementation of VEX Robotics Design Systems at 71 high schools across the country where Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM) courses provide students with access to a unique, hands-on robotics curriculum in the classroom. This included $75,000 in grant funding to significantly help purchase VEX kits for every PLTW Core Training Instructor. Core Training Instructors, who are responsible for training PLTW teachers nationwide, will now be able to get familiar with the VEX equipment well in advance of their training sessions this summer.

The newest round of funding completes CIM upgrades at 134 schools with the balance to be funded by 2012 and brings SME Education Foundation’s total commitment to PLTW to more than $5.3 million over the last five years. This week the Foundation announced additional funding to Project Lead The Way for 50 Gateway Academy schools in 19 states.

These SME Education Foundation funding initiatives mirror ambitious new policy proposals for improving STEM education outlined in a report issued by the President’s Council of Advisors in Science and Technology (PCAST), “Prepare and Inspire: K-12 Education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) for America’s future.”

Today, PLTW is already implementing many of these policy proposals some of which include: recruiting and training STEM teachers who are able to train and inspire students; establishing a Master teacher program; establishing a grid of STEM-focused schools; using technology to drive innovation with the installation of VEX Robotics Design Systems in the classrooms; creating individual and group experiences outside the classroom, and supporting state-led movement for shared standards in math and science.

Advanced manufacturers, developers and producers of high-tech, complex products, hold the greatest potential for creating sustainable, long-term economic growth, rebuilding the American middle-class, and solving the global environmental crisis. The SME Education Foundation works with leading corporations, philanthropic organizations and educational institutions to create outstanding partnerships and since its inception has forged relationships with organizations that have particular interests in workforce development issues.

The SME Education Foundation is expanding its programs to help prepare students for these highly skilled jobs. Organizations are invited to contact the SME Education Foundation for information on unique partnership opportunities.

SME Education Foundation

- Edited by Amanda McLeman, Plant Engineering,

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