PLTW Spotlight: Rochester Institute of Technology

(Aug. 27, 2014) – Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and Project Lead The Way (PLTW) share a long, productive history that includes a lot of “firsts.” RIT is the original PLTW affiliate university and the current affiliate university for the state of New York. The school held PLTW's very first Training Institute in 1997 and since then has been a premier training resource and destination for the region, holding the first winter Core Training sessions and leading the first PLTW Launch training in the Northeast. RIT was also the first university to offer college credit for PLTW courses.

Furthermore, the institution and its team members, among many other contributions, have supported PLTW curriculum and assessment development and conducted academic research related to the partnership, with plans for another study to come.

Led by Affiliate Director George Zion, RIT’s team members ­– Deborah A. Cooper, Colleen Lombardi, and Sarah Pillittere – approach all they do with one simple concept in mind.

“Service. Customer service,” Zion says. “It’s nothing magical.”

By prioritizing the experiences of others, RIT has achieved great success as a PLTW affiliate, from empowering and supporting teachers with a passion for STEM, to helping school districts save money during teacher training, to contributing to the cause of getting students excited about STEM careers.

This all starts with RIT’s focus on crafting a minimal-stress environment during Core Training. The immersive training sessions, which last anywhere from two days to two weeks, are both intense and challenging.

“Training is tough, but we try to make it as positive as we can,” Zion says.

Zion credits both his current colleagues and former colleague Bonnie Travaglini with handling the nuts and bolts of Core Training. From ordering T-shirts, to making sure rooms are reserved, to making sure transit arrives on time, Zion says those he works with do wonders to simplify the experience for teachers so they can concentrate on learning and preparing to teach the PLTW curriculum.

This focus on snag-free logistics, coupled with RIT’s strong, long-running relationships with the PLTW Master Teachers who lead Core Training, makes for an exemplary training experience all around.

In addition to holding on-site trainings in both summer and winter, along with shorter skills-based professional development sessions throughout the year, RIT has also bolstered its commitment to customer service by extending its training offerings beyond its campus. In this new approach, RIT brings the training to the teachers, deploying Master Teachers to host Core Training in the districts themselves. This approach provides schools with significant savings in the areas of transportation, meals, and housing.

“We’re really flexible on how we try to do things,” Zion says. “Our goal is to get the teachers trained. Whatever we can do to facilitate that for the schools – we really try to work with them.”

Once educators complete Core Training and the school year starts up again, they’re able to “pay it forward”: These satisfied, engaged teachers go back to their classrooms and pass on both their knowledge of the subject matter and their passion for STEM to students – many of whom wind up at RIT to pursue STEM careers themselves.

For RIT, the benefits of the partnership are extensive, Zion says.

It is not uncommon for PLTW teachers who complete their training through RIT to be not only champions of STEM fields, but also strong advocates for RIT – a boon for the university.

Through the PLTW partnership, the RIT team has also had the opportunity to help cultivate interest in STEM fields among young people, expanding the pool of students pursuing STEM careers.

“Whether they come to RIT or not, we want to get more students learning STEM,” Zion says. “It’s doing our part to give back to the discipline.”