In September 1956, six days of special events were organized to dedicate the new Westinghouse Research Laboratories in Churchill, Pennsylvania. Each event was aimed at a different public, with one day devoted to science teachers. On Science Teachers Day, 175 selected teachers from area schools spent the day at the Westinghouse Research Laboratories. Scientists from Westinghouse, Gulf Oil, U.S. Steel, and Alcoa took the teachers' places in the schools. The program was supported by a county-wide committee seeking to advance science teaching in secondary schools.
Science Teachers Day proved so successful that plans were made to turn it into an annual event. The program eventually evolved into a concept focused on fostering interest in science among high school students. Spearheaded by research scientist Milton M. Wachtel, professionals of the Westinghouse Research Laboratories planned a series of Saturday-morning science classes for the most gifted seniors in Pittsburgh-area high schools. The concept, called the Westinghouse Science Honors Institute, was sponsored by Westinghouse and facilitated by its staff. Scientists donated their own time to the program, and they still do to this day.
A trial program of six weekly sessions began in February 1958. About 200 students participated, and their enthusiasm led to an expanded program the following year. Twelve lectures were given on Saturday mornings in the fall and winter months. Over time, the Research Laboratories were also expanded, and their home was renamed the George Westinghouse Research and Technology Park. Since 2004 accepted students have also had the opportunity to tour the Penn State Radiation Science and Engineering Center's Breazeale nuclear reactor on three select Saturdays in the fall. Therefore, the number of lectures has been reduced from twelve to eleven.
Though the program has changed over the last half century, its objectives remain the same:
WSHI continued to be held at Westinghouse in Churchill, Pennsylvania until the 2012-2013 lectures when it was moved to Gateway Middle School in Monroeville, Pennsylvania.
- To awaken and strengthen a sense of curiosity in the participants and to challenge them with new concepts and ideas.
- To deepen their understanding of the scope of science and to demonstrate it as a unified whole, with the divisions that do exist as rather arbitrary.
- To help the students decide what field of science to pursue in college and to give them a sample of the educational challenge they will face.
- To combat the impression that scientific facts are unchanging and to demonstrate that most of the answers are not in as of yet.
- To provide the students a chance to intermingle closely with professional scientists to obtain a glimpse of their professional lives.
During select years, other companies have co-sponsored WSHI along with Westinghouse and have shared their expertise with the program. However, the 2013-2014 lecture series is sponsored solely by Westinghouse Electric Company.