PLTW Affiliate Spotlight: University of Colorado Colorado Springs

(March 23, 2015) The University of Colorado Colorado Springs (UCCS) joined Project Lead The Way (PLTW) as an affiliate in 2003. Since then, the university has helped to grow PLTW’s presence in the state; currently, more than 100 PLTW programs are active in nearly 90 schools.

Led by PLTW Affiliate Director Carley Ries and PLTW Affiliate Assistant Aubrey Johns, UCCS hosts annual conferences for school administrators and counselors and holds PLTW professional development training for PLTW Engineering, PLTW Gateway, PLTW Biomedical Science, and PLTW Launch. In addition to offering Core Training and the Colorado PLTW State Conference each year, UCCS provides workshops and other professional development opportunities, including myPLTW Learning Management System (LMS) training; PLTW Biomedical Science teacher workshops featuring local STEM professionals; and robotics trainings. The university also provides ongoing support to PLTW schools and offers a range of student recognition opportunities. In addition, UCCS is hosting Gateway Academies with Colorado school districts for the first time this summer.

"Project Lead The Way is grateful for the long-running relationship with UCCS,” said Gwen Shuster-Haynes, PLTW director of school engagement for Colorado and North Dakota. “The university's dedication to and support of PLTW schools, teachers, and students in Colorado is making a real difference in the state.”

An area where UCCS particularly excels is in the institution’s openness to try creative methods to raise awareness about PLTW in the state.

“The PLTW affiliate team at the university has a great willingness to try marketing ideas that get the word out about UCCS and PLTW,” Shuster-Haynes says.

UCCS is spreading the message through tools such as branded electronic billboards, city bus campaigns, and stadium seats. Each medium presents a different opportunity to reach new audience members where they are.

The city bus campaign, for example, began in Colorado Springs and now has a presence in both Boulder and the southern Denver metropolitan area. This campaign has been effective in reaching a great number of people as the vehicles rove from place to place throughout these areas. The fixed-position electronic billboards, meanwhile, are highly visible for those stuck in traffic. The branded stadium seats, on the other hand, help to build PLTW awareness by word of mouth. Parents often take stadium seats to high schools in areas without PLTW, Johns says, and the item gets conversations rolling.

UCCS is also working to harness the power of social media channels to increase PLTW awareness among Colorado students. The university has started to get students engaged through Twitter contests that incorporate STEM-related giveaways such as lab coats.

“It’s something to help get the students talking about PLTW,” Johns explains. “On our certification visits, we have come to realize that many of the students who we’ve met with who are juniors or seniors might be in foundation courses like Principles of Biomedical Science or Introduction to Engineering Design, and we say, ‘We’re so happy you’re in this course; this is fantastic! But why didn’t you sign up as a freshman or sophomore?’ And they often respond, ‘Well, I really didn’t know about it until my buddies already took the class’ or ‘Someone in my band section was telling me about it, and it sounded really cool.’”

Ideally, students have the opportunity to take PLTW courses before high school, Johns remarks, but that opportunity isn’t always available.

“We realized that getting kids in these classes a lot of times just comes from student-to-student conversations and hearing that their friends took PLTW,” Johns says. “Or seeing information about it on Twitter, which is a big medium for that age group.”

Equipped with that knowledge, UCCS began to implement new engagement efforts on social media.

“We’re trying to be cutting-edge with our techniques and reach people in different ways,” Johns says. Trying out a number of approaches – from more traditional marketing to social media engagement – gives UCCS the opportunity to “see what works and learn from those things that don’t.”

The approach is paying off: Johns says she gets emails daily from non-PLTW students and parents inquiring about getting access to PLTW programs.

As PLTW continues to expand in the state ­– thanks, in part, to these creative awareness efforts – the primary goal, Johns emphasizes, remains the same: ensuring the integrity of UCCS’ support and offerings.

“We’ve been trying to grow while still offering the best services we can to parents, students, and teachers,” she says.

Johns attributes the success of the PLTW-UCCS partnership and the growth of the program in the state to teamwork.

“It takes a village – our department, UCCS’ College of Engineering and Applied Science, Beth El College of Nursing and Health Sciences, with support from PLTW’s Colorado Director of School Engagement, Gwen,” Johns says. “In order to have a successful partnership, it takes everybody to make that happen.”

About UCCS

The University of Colorado Colorado Springs, located on Austin Bluffs Parkway in Colorado Springs, is one of the fastest growing universities in Colorado. The University offers 36 bachelor’s degrees, 19 master’s and five doctoral degrees. UCCS enrolls about 11,000 students on campus annually and another 2,000 in online programs. For more information, visit www.uccs.edu.

About PLTW

Project Lead The Way (PLTW) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and the nation’s leading provider of K-12 STEM programs. PLTW’s world-class, activity-, project-, and problem-based curriculum and high-quality teacher professional development model, combined with an engaged network of educators and corporate partners, help students develop the skills needed to succeed in our global economy. More than 6,500 elementary, middle, and high schools in all 50 states and the District of Columbia are currently offering PLTW courses to their students. For more information, visit www.pltw.org.