The importance of STEM outreach to potential future colleagues

STEM Bridge buildingEngineers are responsible for shaping the world we live in and solving everyday problems. While those in our industry understand this, there are many young students that do not understand this yet. Little do they realize that an engineer was responsible for providing clean water for their shower each morning, an efficient roadway network to get them where they need to go, and a structurally sound home for their residence.

In the engineering industry, we have witnessed a sharp increase in demand for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) professionals. While statistics show that this trend does not appear to be slowing down, the number of STEM bachelor’s degrees awarded hasn’t been able to keep up. Similarly, firms have reported challenges filling job openings due to a lack of qualified individuals. The solution to these problems is to reach out to those young students who may not understand the opportunities that are available to them.

For more than a decade, I have had the pleasure to reach out to students from elementary through high school in my community. These opportunities have allowed me to share information on what engineers do and highlight that there is a demand for more engineers. I’ve shared that the engineering job market is thriving with secure jobs that offer above average salaries for those graduating college.

One of my most enjoyable presentations was to a high school group in Hastings, MN. This community sits right on the Mississippi River and has a strong connection to their current and past Mississippi River crossings. At this time, I was leading a study to determine the next bridge that would replace the existing one. We were evaluating girder, arch, and cable-supported bridges. I was able to use this opportunity to educate these students on the differences between these bridges and how they work to provide a safe crossing for their community. This provided a real-time, relevant example of engineering in their community that they could see and discuss with their families at home.

Since joining Mead & Hunt in 2016, I’ve been able to continue these outreach efforts by partnering with my local ACEC organization. Working with ACEC, I have been able to present engineering career opportunities to hundreds of students across the metro area and outstate regions. Each of these presentations were accompanied by a hands-on group project. With some groups, we built bridges using K’nex pieces to span 16 inches and hold the largest load (of course, these were load tested to failure!). With other groups, we created catapults for shooting candy at a target to score the most points. These presentations consistently were not only informative but also fun for the students and the presenters.

I’ve been blessed in my chosen career with a job that allows me to not only support my family, but also allows me to be a positive influence on the world I live in. There are many opportunities in this industry, and it is our responsibility to be ambassadors for the engineering community. This will not only enhance our own appreciation for what we do, but most importantly, shares to potential engineers how they can successfully impact their future and the world around them.

Keith Farquhar

About the Author

Keith Farquhar, P.E., brings nearly 20 years of project and quality management experience to transportation projects. He has championed the quality management process for multiple design and construction projects. When not mentoring young engineers at work, Keith can be found at home mentoring four future engineers with various degrees of success.

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