Skip to main content
3 min read

Washington Affiliates Raise the Bar for PLTW Students

The state of Washington is home to two PLTW affiliates – Washington State University Spokane for Biomedical Science and Seattle University for Engineering and Gateway. Dual affiliates for many years, the two universities and their affiliate directors work together to support all PLTW programs and share a goal of engaging PLTW students in post-secondary and career exploration.

Nimmy Gnanapragasam, affiliate director at Seattle University, and Sylvia Oliver, affiliate director at WSU Spokane, collaborate each year to host dual state conferences for Washington PLTW teachers, administrators, and supporters. Gnanapragasam says the dual conferences are a huge benefit in a state that is separated into east and west by numerous mountain ranges and often treacherous passes.

“We work together to put each agenda together, so no matter where [conference attendees] go (Seattle or Spokane) they get the full experience,” she says. “I coordinate the Seattle conference and present on engineering in both locations, and Sylvia coordinates Spokane and presents on the biomedical side.”

This year, Gnanapragasam invited PLTW middle school and high school students to attend and present at the Seattle state conference. She hosted the students a day early, gave them a tour of the campus and the university’s engineering department, invited them to eat in the campus cafeteria, and allowed them to experience campus life. It was so successful, she says, it’s something they’ll continue to do each year. Gnanapragasam also keeps PLTW alumni engaged by inviting them to events like the state conference to talk with teachers, counselors, and administrators about the impact of PLTW on their college engineering studies.   

“Drs. Gnanapragasam and Oliver do an exceptional job in making our state conferences worthwhile—it is the one event that keeps our partners in the schools up to date, showcases our new programs and program revisions, and introduces new schools and districts to Project Lead The Way,” says Shepherd Siegel, PLTW director of school engagement in Washington.

Across the mountains in Spokane, WSU Spokane serves as Washington State University’s graduate school for the health sciences. The PLTW Biomedical Science affiliate gives PLTW students collegiate treatment.

“We want all students to have relevance to their education and connection to the workplace,” says WSU Spokane Affiliate Director Sylvia Oliver. “What PLTW has done better than anyone I’ve seen, is that it blends those two, raises the bar, and brings CTE into same conversation as college preparatory. It’s critical for us to offer these enrichment opportunities for our PLTW students.

Oliver has helped establish very intentional programs that link PLTW high schools to the university. WSU Spokane offers shadowing experiences where PLTW students are paired with the university’s professionals and allied health graduate students. The shadowing allows students to attend college classes and experience the rigor of the graduate programs.

Oliver also invites Biomedical Science students to training sessions on topics such as blood-borne pathogens and HIPAA. Students who attend the sessions receive not only real-world training, but also official certification. Oliver publicizes the opportunities to schools directly.

“In a way that is very different from engineering, authentic experiences are difficult for our biomed classes,” Oliver explains. “Hospitals and clinics are closed to them because of privacy concerns and HIPAA (The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996). But we can offer clinical training experiences to PLTW students through the clinicals our students participate in.”

This spring, Oliver will expand the student outreach, giving PLTW students the chance to experience the graduate students’ clinical training experiences in physical therapy and fitness and exercise therapy.

Both affiliate universities also do an excellent job with industry and government outreach. At Seattle University, Gnanapragasam has helped acquire significant scholarship funding for both teacher training and student scholarships. Through Boeing’s sponsorship and support from the Washington legislature, Seattle University is able to offer over $50,000 in teacher training scholarships each summer. After Core Training, Gnanapragasam hosts a graduation luncheon for PLTW teachers and invites Boeing and elected officials in thanks. Seattle University also offers PLTW graduates $1,000 scholarships that can be renewed each year if they sustain a 3.0 GPA while enrolled at the university. The university gives out up to 25 each year.

In Spokane, Oliver has connected Hollister-Stier, a pharmaceutical manufacturer, to one PLTW school. The company now funds the school’s Biomedical Science program and its employees volunteer in the classroom. In addition, the company allows Biomedical Innovation students to do their capstone projects in the manufacturing facility, working on projects that employees have identified. 

“Transitional and pipeline programs are of critical importance to our students,” says Oliver. “If we can offer students services and programs before they graduate and go into post-secondary opportunities, it improves the students’ ability to make more informed decisions about their education.”

Oliver also provides grant writing assistance to help districts secure funding. For smaller, rural districts that face challenges related to their size and funding, she offers an equipment loan program, letting teachers borrow the biomedical equipment used in summer training.

“I couldn’t ask for better affiliates in Washington,” Siegel says. “They both go above and beyond with enriched programs on their campuses and connections to K-12 schools. This speaks volumes about their commitment to our students. Whenever we meet, the number one topic is always ‘what can we do together that is going to most greatly benefit the education and careers of the students we serve.”