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Use Of Programmable Logic Controllers To Motivate High School Students To Pursue Engineering

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

IE and Manufacturing

Tagged Division

Industrial Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.1308.1 - 15.1308.8



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Paper Authors

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Rashpal Ahluwalia West Virginia University

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Atul Phadke West Virginia University

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Gary Winn West Virginia University

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Reagan Curtis West Virginia University

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Use of programmable logic controllers to motivate high school students to pursue engineering Abstract

The paper describes the use of Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) to motivate Appalachian high school students to pursue higher education in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). Nationally, college enrollment in STEM areas has been declining; this is particularly true for minority and Appalachian students. This project worked with two batches of twenty students each. Each batch was organized into four teams of five students. All students were first provided instruction in logic circuits and ladder logic. Ladder logic circuits for four tasks were created; a) simulation of automatic garage door, b) simulation of four way traffic light, 3) controlling a light via a physical switch, and 4) physical control of five lights. The five lights mimicked traffic lights (red, yellow, yellow left, green, and green left) at an intersection. The students were asked to control the timing sequence of the lights. Upon completion of the eight hour lecture/laboratory period the student were surveyed. Student responses indicated that a significant portion of both girls and boys agreed or strongly agreed that lecture/laboratory material improved their understanding of PLCs, Boolean algebra, ladder logic, and hardware/software integration. The activity was even considered to be fun by some students.


This paper describes the use of Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC) to motivate high school students to pursue science and engineering. Enrollment in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) disciplines has been declining for some time1. This is particularly true for minorities and Appalachian students. A project entitled, “Engineers of Tomorrow (EoT)”* was under taken at West Virginia University (WVU) to recruit and retain high school students in STEM disciplines2. The project was supported in part by the National Science Foundation3 and the C. W. Benedum Foundation4. It involved several WVU colleges (Colleges of Engineering and Mineral Resources, Human Resources and Education, Eberly College of Arts and Sciences), the EdVenture Group5, and the Governor's Minority Students Strategies Council.

Across the nation, science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) majors in secondary education have undergone enrollment declines in recent years. Difficulties in attracting students from Appalachia, particularly women and minorities, to science and engineering majors are especially problematic. West Virginia and the region are rural and have been isolated by topography with few high tech opportunities for college graduates; often they leave the state. Many college students are first-generation in Appalachia, and these students do not have many role models at home or in local communities, particularly in the STEM disciplines. Research suggests that high school students react favorably to learning activities that are hands-on and competitive. Our lab activity was selected because it allowed students to learn about an engineering discipline particularly industrial engineering; because it involved active, hand-on * This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0525484. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Ahluwalia, R., & Phadke, A., & Winn, G., & Curtis, R. (2010, June), Use Of Programmable Logic Controllers To Motivate High School Students To Pursue Engineering Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16405

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