PLTW Engineering Lab

The Arcola School District was recently informed that three senior students, who will be graduating in May, have been accepted and will be attending an engineering program at the University of Illinois next fall. While it is entirely possible that all three of these students may have ended up at the U of I in engineering, all three have given some credit to the district’s Project Lead the Way Engineering Program that was started in the 2019-2020 school year.   


The three accomplished seniors attending a U of I Engineering program are Garrett Sigrist, Cameron Roberts, and John Lopez. All three of these students are also co-valedictorians (3 of the 8) of the Arcola Graduating Class of 2021. Garrett plans on studying mechanical engineering through the Grainger college of engineering at U of I.  His ultimate career goal is to work somewhere where he can solve problems and find innovative solutions using engineering.  John will be majoring in Chemical Engineering. His ultimate career goal is to become a pharmacist or do research in pharmacy. Finally, Cameron will be majoring in aerospace engineering. His ultimate career goal is to work for NASA in the aerospace field.

What is Project Lead the Way

The district began offering Project Lead the Way (PLTW) Engineering classes for junior high and high school students during the 2019-2020 school year.  Project Lead the Way is an organization that offers stem curriculum in computer science, engineering and biomedical science. They believe in providing students with real world applied learning experiences. The PLTW curriculum is a research-supported approach that empowers students to discover and explore interest, imagine and design solutions to real world challenges and become independent, confident problem solvers.

At the high school level, the district offers a course called Introduction to Engineering (IED). In this course, students are introduced to the engineering profession and a common approach to the solution of engineering problems, an engineering design process. Utilizing the activity-project-problem-based (APB) teaching and learning, students’ progress from completing structured activities to solving open ended projects and problems that require them to develop planning, documentation, communication, and other professional skills.  The high school also offers the course Principles of Engineering (POE).  In this course, students explore a broad range of engineering topics, including mechanisms, the strength of structures and materials, and automation. Students develop skills in problem solving, research, and design while learning strategies for design process documentation, collaboration, and presentation.

Impact of Project Lead the Way on the Graduates

All three of the students featured in this article took both Intro to Engineering and Design (IED) and Principles of Engineering (POE) over the last couple of school years. While all of the students had some interest in possibly pursuing engineering, they all indicated that the courses helped influence or shape their decisions in some way.  When describing the impact of the classes, the students shared the following comments:

  • I had already planned on entering engineering before I took these courses, so they just reinforced my interest.
  • I feel as if I gained a better understanding of all of the basics of engineering.
  • I believe that taking these two courses has influenced my decision to pursue a career in engineering.
  • From taking PLTW Courses, I think I have gained the advantage of having experience in working with others to find a better outcome. 
  • Although I was interested in engineering before I took these classes, they really solidified my passion for the field. 
  • I think that the PLTW courses helped me understand specifically what types of engineering are more up my alley. Additionally, these two classes gave me a good introduction to what kind of work and concepts I should expect to see once I’m in college. 

Special Thanks

This exciting innovation would not have been possible without the support from a tremendous school district partner, The Libman Company.  In 2019, the Libman Company provided significant financial resources towards the program, which the district used to purchase equipment and curriculum; renovate a classroom for the program; and for teacher training.

The district would also like to thank Eric Butler, James Caudle and Lori Anderson.  All three of these teachers attended rigorous training over the summer in order for the district to be able to offer this great program to our students. 

The district is very proud of the accomplishments of these impressive seniors and wish them well in their respective fields of engineering.