Written by Meghan Stiklestad, Mead & Hunt
Last year, I had the opportunity to celebrate Engineers Week with first graders. I partnered with ACEC Wisconsin to launch a Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics (STEAM) program at a local elementary school with approximately 60 first graders!
Our program consisted of a brief introductory presentation, followed by hands-on bridge building and traffic safety activities. Our goals were to introduce students to the engineering profession and encourage critical and creative thinking with hands-on opportunities to help them develop problem-solving skills and learn how to think outside the box. And, we were able to pull together a great network of volunteers, including representatives from a couple municipalities.
Now is a great time to begin thinking about outreach for Engineers Week 2024 – February 18-24, 2024.
Here are a few of my key takeaways and reasons why I’m passionate about the importance of STEAM outreach at an early age.
- It took less than two hours to make a significant impression on 60 students.
That’s right—less than 120 minutes to introduce the next generation of STEAMers to the engineering world. While I had invested a little more time developing the program from scratch for our first go of it, our volunteers only had to review the instruction booklet I created, participate in a brief 30-minute kickoff call, and spend one hour actively volunteering.
The good news is that if you want to replicate this program—the instructions, presentation, and materials are already in place. And, it’s not just for first graders. The program can be scaled up or down for kindergarten through fourth grade.
Download the program outline
If you’re curious on how I know it made an impression—we received feedback from the teachers and several students’ parents about how their kids enjoyed the activities. In fact, my own first grader is quick to point out the traffic control devices (TCDs) we pass on the road now.
- It was a great, neutral way to connect with clients and teaming partners.
Though it wasn’t really my goal for the outreach effort, I wound up getting connected to several potential clients and teaming partners I might not otherwise know. By partnering with a non-profit organization like ACEC Wisconsin, we were able to put our heads together on potential volunteers who had ties to the school.
Working together on a project for the betterment of our community was a great, neutral way to expand my network. There was no competition, no sales goal, no hidden agenda. It was genuinely about opening students’ minds to different careers and helping them to think critically.
- It helps build brand recognition.
In all seriousness, though, STEAM outreach is a great way to expand brand recognition in our communities. We great goodwill coverage through social media.
- It was fun!
I know kids might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it was fun to break away from the daily grind and do something different. I could go on and on about the benefits of volunteering, but for this particular outreach effort, I’ll just say the excitement the kids had for engineering was contagious. The eagerness to learn was exciting to see and reassuring to know that it’s never too early to start with STEAM education.
- STEAM is for everyone.
This point is two-fold: 1) anyone can become an engineer or architect with the right education; and 2) you don’t need to be an engineer or an architect to help inspire the next generation of STEAMers.
Calling ALL Volunteers!
Not all STEAM outreach requires a degree in engineering or architecture. By focusing on a younger student base, I was also able to help lead the activities (and let me tell you, I can build LEGOs with the best of them!). All it took was a passion to be active in my community and to see the AEC industry flourish, knowing that the next generations are critical to our success.
I encourage everyone to take the time to get involved because two hours a year can have a wonderful ripple effect for our next generation of STEAMers.
About the Guest Blogger
Meghan Stiklestad is the Marketing and Communications Director at Mead & Hunt and currently serves as the ACEC Wisconsin Marketing and Communications Committee Chair. Meghan is also a graduate of the ACEC Wisconsin Leadership Institute and is involved on the ACEC National Business Development & Marketing Forum. Mead & Hunt is a long-time member and supporter of ACEC Wisconsin.