Pitsco Education marks 50-year anniversary

Jonathan Riley
Morning Sun
Pitsco Education, which marked its 50-year anniversary over the weekend, sells robotics sets like the one shown here, among many other science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education products.

PITTSBURG, Kan. — Three teachers started Pitsco Education in a Pittsburg basement in 1971. Half a century later, the company has grown to serve more than 3 million students annually, offering more than 4,000 products and shipping to more than 60 countries, but still has its headquarters in the local community. 

Pitsco marked its 50th anniversary on Saturday, March 6. Though the company hoped to host a community event to commemorate the milestone, that has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Pitsco still hopes to host such a celebration later in the year. 

“We’ll have hands-on activities for the people that come,” Pitsco President Lisa Paterni said in an interview Monday. “There’s several new products that we’ve introduced here in the last couple of years and so we’re anxious to share those with the community.” 

She added that there is no set date yet for the open house event the company is planning, although it will likely be in the fall. 

“We’re kind of playing it by ear to see how things roll out with the vaccine and what schools look like next year,” Paterni said. 

Pitsco has had a focus on providing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education products since long before the STEM acronym was in use

Paterni has been with Pitsco for more than 26 years. In that time, the company has grown and technology has changed. Some things, however, have been consistent since before her time with the company. 

“Harvey and Sharon Dean have been, you know, at the core of Pitsco since the beginning, and have really set the vision with their focus on students and making sure that we provide them opportunities to be successful in the classroom,” Paterni said. 

Harvey Dean, one of the company’s co-founders and its current CEO, “was a kinesthetic learner, and so he had trouble sitting in rows and columns in the classroom,” Paterni said, “and so his passion has always been to help those little Harveys in the class to get it and to engage and really understand why what they’re learning is important.” 

Dean also commented on Pitsco’s mission over the course of its five decades in business in a press release announcing the anniversary. 

“It's about students and teachers. It always has been, and it always will be about the students and teachers,” Dean said. “We have an enduring commitment to meet the needs of students whose preferred method of learning is hands on, and we are dedicated to developing the best products that meet the needs of today's students and teachers. Our philosophy hasn't changed one bit in 50 years.” 

Paterni also noted that several of the company’s products, such as its CO2 dragsters, have withstood the test of time and remained among Pitsco’s bestsellers since the company started. 

Postponing its 50-year anniversary celebration is not the only change that Pitsco has had to make to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“The COVID pandemic has had an impact on us because hands-on is what we do, and kids typically need to be in classrooms to be able to engage fully in those types of experiences, and so we have seen some challenges, because while around here most schools are back primarily face-to-face, across the nation there’s a lot of places that they aren’t face-to-face,” Paterni said. 

“And so we’ve adapted, creating kits and things like STEM Boxes that schools can buy and send home, and it’s 15 days worth of activities for students that can be self-paced or they can do it via Zoom or Teams or Google Hangout or some kind of video medium.” 

As Pitsco reaches its 50-year anniversary, it’s hard to predict what the next 50 years may hold for the company, given the changes in technology and in the real-world applications for that technology that are likely to occur. 

“I don’t think probably 15 years ago drones were on our radar, and now the use for drones has just exponentially grown,” Paterni said.  

Other aspects of Pitsco’s business model that have always served it well, however, are likely to remain the same, she said. 

“In 50 years, I don’t have any hesitation in saying I think we’ll still be doing the things that we’re doing today,” Paterni said, “which is putting the focus on the student, on the learner, and that we’re providing the quality service and innovative, quality products that we’ve always been known for.”