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NEWS RELEASES 2003-04 :: SEPTEMBER 11, 2003

Contacts: Deborah Hill, Duke University
919.401.0299 x.329
Kay Williams, N.C. Dept. of Instruction


Note to editors: Duke engineering Dean Kristina M. Johnson is available at 919.660.5389 or June Atkinson, director of instructional services, North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, is available at 919.807.3815, or

DURHAM, N.C. -- In universities across the nation, half of all engineering students drop out of the program because they are not ready for the academics and can't catch up. Not surprisingly, the United States suffers from a shortage of engineers in all fields of engineering.

To address this ongoing problem, Duke University, the State Board of Education, and the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction signed a partnership agreement today to launch Project Lead the Way (PLTW) in North Carolina, a national pre-engineering program designed to help students prepare for college engineering coursework and build excitement for careers in engineering.

Project Lead the Way is an established pre-engineering program that provides the following resources:

  • fully-developed curriculum for high school and middle school;
  • extensive professional development curriculum for teachers; and
  • school counselor professional development training and conferences.

"Making school more relevant for students is a critical need," said State Superintendent Mike Ward. "We view Project Lead the Way as a viable way to show students that they need to start preparing for the future while they're in school."

Although four schools in North Carolina are already using the PLTW curriculum, "we've been unable to expand the program throughout the state because of the cost of sending teachers out of state for the required training," said June Atkinson, director of the Division of Instructional Services for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

By partnering with Duke, the program will gain expertise and resources that it normally could not afford, Atkinson said. "When Duke's Pratt School of Engineering called to express interest in the program and to offer help, it was a wonderful offer," Atkinson said. "With Duke providing professional development training for our teachers, we can finally get this program launched statewide."

Duke's Gary Ybarra, associate professor of the practice and director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, will take the lead in teacher and counselor training. Ybarra has extensive experience in teacher education, and is currently leading a $5.3 million dollar, five-year Teachers and Scientists Collaborating grant from the National Science Foundation designed to improve science curricula in North Carolina school districts.

Ybarra also heads a GE Foundation grant named MUSCLE (Math Understanding through the Science of Life) and a Burroughs Wellcome Fund grant named Techtronics: Hands-on Exploration of Technology in Everyday Life. These programs focus on the K-8 population and are designed to increase the number of students who choose science-related careers by helping them improve their mathematical skills through meaningful problem solving.

"Engineering is an excellent foundation for any career," Ybarra said. "Solving real-world problems that improve the quality of life for humans is an exciting context for learning math and science. PLTW will offer high school and middle school students the opportunity to learn engineering principles and receive credit for courses that will transfer to colleges and universities nationwide."

Russell Holloway, associate dean in the Pratt School of Engineering, will co-chair the PLTW State Leadership Team with Atkinson.

"We are thrilled to be involved in this important partnership for North Carolina," said Pratt Dean Kristina Johnson. "Professor Ybarra is truly an outstanding example of how Duke can make an impact in our community."

For more information about Project Lead the Way, visit the Web site at

About the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction:
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction provides leadership to 115 local public school districts and 126 charter schools serving over 1.5 million students in kindergarten through high school graduation. The agency is responsible for all aspects of the state's public school system and works under the direction of the North Carolina State Board of Education.

For more information:
NCDPI Communication and Information Division, 919.807.3450.