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PLTW Students Shine At White House

WASHINGTON, D.C. (February 10, 2012) - Project Lead The Way (PLTW) students from across the country received the coveted invitation to the White House this week to meet with President Barack Obama during his second White House Science Fair.

Jessica D’Esposito, Colton Newton, and Anna Woolery from Indiana’s Pike Central High School made the trip to D.C. because of their involvement in the Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam initiative. The project they showcased at the White House was made possible by a grant from the Lemelson-MIT Program. In addition, PLTW freshman Kayla Burriss from East Mecklenburg High School in Charlotte, N.C attended the fair. All four PLTW students were among a select group from across the United States—just over 100 students from 45 states. Accompanying the proud students were Pike Central instructor Ray Niehaus and Principal LeAnne Kelley along with Burriss’ mom.

The Pike Central students impressed President Obama with their unique emergency shelter, designed and developed during their Project Lead The Way engineering courses, and made possible by an InvenTeam grant. The shelter is extremely lightweight yet durable and folds down into a compact kit that can be air dropped into disaster-stricken areas and assembled on the ground. The waterproof shelter includes a water purification system that uses carbon to kill bacteria.

“What made us want to do this were the earthquakes in Haiti,” one of the students told the President. “We started doing research and realized how many people could use these shelters.”

Within six months of the Haiti earthquake, the students had developed the first prototype. Thanks to the InvenTeam grant, the students improved upon their design and showcased it at the Lemelson-MIT Program’s annual EurekaFest event held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology last June.

“So what’s going to happen next?” the President asked the students. They answered that they are hoping a company will take on their design.

The invention actually is under review by various national and international relief agencies which are considering the invention as part of their relief efforts. The cost of the shelter is approximately $600, comparable to the tents currently used in relief efforts, the students told President Obama.

The group of attendees were sworn to secrecy. All called in sick to school, telling no one of their destination. Pike Central Secretary Pep Young told Project Lead The Way, “I’ve worked for Ms. Kelley for 12 years, and she didn’t even tell me where she was going. When we found out this morning, we announced it to our staff. We are all just so proud of these students. This is something they’ll remember the rest of their lives.”


About PLTW Project Lead The Way, Inc., a nonprofit organization with 501 (c)(3) tax-exempt status, is the leading provider of rigorous and innovative STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education curricular programs used in schools. PLTW's comprehensive curriculum has been collaboratively designed by PLTW teachers, university educators, engineering and biomedical professionals, and school administrators to promote critical thinking, creativity, innovation and real-world problem solving skills in students. The hands-on, project-based program engages students on multiple levels, exposes them to areas of study that they typically do not pursue, and provides them with a foundation and proven path to college and career success. More than 4,200 schools in all 50 states and the District of Columbia are currently offering PLTW courses to their students. For more information, visit

About Lemelson-MIT Program The Lemelson-MIT Program celebrates outstanding innovators and inspires young people to pursue creative lives and careers through invention. Jerome H. Lemelson, one of U.S. history’s most prolific inventors, and his wife Dorothy founded the Lemelson-MIT Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1994. It is funded by The Lemelson Foundation and administered by the School of Engineering. The Foundation sparks, sustains and celebrates innovation and the inventive spirit. It supports projects in the U.S. and developing countries that nurture innovators and unleash invention to advance economic, social and environmentally sustainable development. To date The Lemelson Foundation has donated or committed more than U.S. $150 million in support of its mission.