Schools Partner to Host Joint PLTW Engineering Student Showcase, Break Illinois State Record

Neuqua Valley High School PLTW Engineering Teacher Tony Tegtmeyer and Oswego East High School PLTW Engineering Teacher Tony Holub always respected each other’s PLTW programs, but it was only after visits to one another’s school engineering symposiums that this mutual admiration grew into a partnership. Inspired by the potential to create an event uniting the entire region through the recognition of student work and friendly competition, Tegtmeyer and Holub met a few times over the summer, started building community partnerships, and worked together to create what is now the largest PLTW Engineering Design and Development (EDD) showcase in the state.

At the inaugural event, hundreds of students representing more than 55 teams from five schools in the Indian Prairie and Oswego Community school districts gathered at Neuqua Valley High School to present their final projects and compete for awards and scholarships.

PLTW President and CEO Vince Bertram attended the showcase, hosted the awards ceremony, and commended and recognized students in front of a crowd of peers, teachers, district leaders, and members of business community.

“What you’re learning here is going to differentiate you from your peers,” he said. “The ability to problem-solve and communicate your solutions is a skill that will serve you well no matter what career path you choose.”

Following the event, PLTW had the opportunity to sit down with Tegtmeyer and Holub to learn more about their experience with the showcase and with PLTW. Read on for excerpts from our conversation.

PLTW: How did you come up with the idea for the showcase, and why did you pursue it?

Holub: A key driver for us to pursue this project was to give students an added experience that mirrors what they will see in real life – to present to a variety of experts and to see how they "stack up" in a competitive environment. Our students love competition. Finally, we both are continually looking for ways to promote the outstanding curriculum and experiences offered by Project Lead The Way, and the showcase is an excellent way to accomplish this. 

PLTW: Why did you think it was important to put on the showcase?

Tegtmeyer: With all the talk about STEM in education, many community members still aren’t sure what STEM education is. The showcase provides a forum for students to challenge one another in a friendly, competitive setting, and it also allows parents, administrators, community members, and business partners to see the amazing abilities of our students and the hope they bring for the future of our country and society. Once people see PLTW in action, the instant remark is, "I wish they had this when I was in school!" 

PLTW: What were some of the challenges you faced when planning, and how did you handle them?

Holub: Communication is the biggest challenge one faces when bringing together five schools to compete in a new event of this magnitude. We are very fortunate to have exemplary administration in both districts that eased many concerns we faced. We both relearned that the larger the project, the more complicated it can be to manage. In addition, all Project Lead The Way teachers at the five area schools pitched in and assisted as we saw the need for additional help and resources. The ability to collaborate via various Google platforms simultaneously assisted greatly, as well. In the end, it is a labor of love, and it means taking time on weekends, during breaks, and on weeknights to make it a reality. We enjoy working together, and that made the experience enjoyable, and it reminds us and our students that collaboration is essential for optimal results.

PLTW: How did students prepare for the showcase?

Holub: Students always have some apprehension as they get closer to their big presentation for Engineering Design and Development. I think their level of apprehension was heightened this year as they knew they were among peers from four other schools. That said, students put additional emphasis on being prepared for the moment and shined for our judges. A showcase like this allows students to understand the importance of making a great first impression. For the most part, they thrive in this setting, and it gives them great confidence as they prepare for the challenges they will face in college and in their eventual career.

Tegtmeyer: Public speaking is near the top of the list of fears for most people, but it’s natural to be a little nervous when we want to do well at something and other people are watching. Neuqua Valley students start preparing in small ways early in the year and slowly build up to the day of the showcase. We build our presentations in thirds and practice with classmates throughout the year, improving the content and delivery with feedback from peers and faculty. Having a plan and following it helps reduce the tension.

Stay current on Vince’s travels – and the latest in education and workforce development news – by following him on Twitter at @VinceBertram.