Bertram Visits Schools, Speaks of Urgency in Alaska

Project Lead The Way President and CEO Dr. Vince Bertram visited Anchorage, Alaska, this week with a team of PLTW staff and supporters. Joining Bertram were Ed Dennis, director of school engagement for Alaska, Oregon, and Hawaii; Shepherd Siegel, director of school engagement in Washington and formerly Alaska; and Eric Gebhart, PLTW state leader in Alaska and superintendent of the Nenana School District.

The three-day visit to Anchorage was filled with visits to schools to talk with administrators, teachers, and students; meetings with community leaders, business leaders, post-secondary representatives, and lawmakers; and a keynote speech at the Alaska Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) Conference.

At Anchorage School District’s Dimond High School, Bertram and the group visited the Dimond Engineering Academy, where more than 20 district administrators, teachers, post-secondary representatives, and business leaders from around the community gathered to speak with Bertram in a town hall discussion about STEM. Questions from the group centered on how the district can grow and support its PLTW programs and develop a K-12 pathway around their current programs. Bertram discussed the important role a School Partnership Team plays in the success of a PLTW program saying, “The members of these teams are true partners. They provide relevancy to the work students are doing in the classroom, help students make connections to the real world, and help them understand the opportunities that are available to them.”

Bertram was impressed with the number of female students represented in Dimond High School’s PLTW courses, with one Digital Electronics class having an equal 50-50 split. PLTW instructor Lea Bouton credited the “Smart Girls Rock” program, an initiative that began four years ago to get more girls interested in PLTW and high-level math and science courses. Since the program’s inception, the percentage of girls enrolled in PLTW has increased from 13 percent to nearly 35 percent.

At nearby Service High School, Bertram got a firsthand look at a top PLTW Biomedical Science program. Lead instructor Vani Pillai and teacher Kaity Williamson shared the initiatives and strategies that have made their program a model for others in the state and contribute to its continuing growth. Bertram also had an opportunity to sit down with students, learning what they enjoy about the program.  

“We get to use the information we learn right away,” one student said. “We don’t have to wait until we go to college or get a job to understand why it’s important.”

On Wednesday, Oct. 22, Bertram delivered the morning keynote address to career and technical education teachers, administrators, and business leaders at the Alaska ACTE Conference. His message focused on the importance of believing in students, inspiring them to reach high expectations, and the urgency of preparing them with the skills they need to be successful in the global economy.

“Inspiring people, believing in people, and leading people isn't about a title. It’s about responsibility. We can lead from any seat. Leadership does not require a title,” he said. “We have to help parents and students understand the career opportunities available. We have to stop making excuses about the external factors and barriers that we encounter in education. We have to break through them. And we must help students develop the skills they need to succeed in their career.”

“There is nowhere else to look; there is no one else to call upon. It is up to us,” Bertram concluded.

With that, he received a standing ovation from the conference, and Alaska ACTE President Joni Simpson declared, “I’m on it and Alaska ACTE is on it. We've heard the urgency!”

You can follow Bertram as he travels and stay up-to-date on STEM education and workforce development news by following him on Twitter at @vincebertram.