Manda Prinds, a mechanical engineer, and Julia Horn and Caroline Wilson, both process engineers, don’t limit their impact to the office. These Kiewit leaders in Lenexa, Kansas, help lead company outreach efforts in their local community.
Recently, Prinds, Horn and Wilson helped organize a partnership with the Boys and Girls Club of Wyandotte County in Kansas City to help get kids excited about STEM. Between June 5 and July 24, they facilitated two, 1.5-hour STEM sessions every week for nearly 40 middle schoolers.
The sessions were part of the Boys and Girls Club’s “Atomic Blast” summer program, providing a fun resource for families that do not have the financial means for meals, daycare and educational opportunities for their children over the summer.
“It was important to us to reach out to people who don’t get resources allocated to them,” says Horn.
Wilson agrees, “One of the goals of our program was to expose the kids to STEM curriculum they might not have had otherwise. It was great to see the kids see STEM in a more approachable way.”
The activities weren’t necessarily designed to teach specific STEM principles. Instead, the challenges built excitement around the subjects to encourage the kids.
“There is kind of a drop-off around the middle school age – that’s the age where kids start to believe that they are not good at math and science,” explains Prinds. “One of the goals of this program was to show them that they can be good problem solvers and that they have the skills to be able to work on math and science types of problems.”
And with activities like “Earthquake Design,” where the kids designed structures to survive an “earthquake” while holding the weight of sandbags, and “Design a Wind Turbine,” where the kids built windmills that could move weights, the projects were no walk in the park.
“I think it gave them a good feel that sometimes you work hard and it’s still hard, but that you don’t give up because you have the skills, and with a little help you can make it work,” says Prinds.
According to Horn, the best moments of the program were seeing shy or rambunctious kids grow their confidence and focus with each concept and design challenge. But the program did not just expose kids to the engineering process. It allowed volunteers to use their knowledge to benefit the community.
“We all went to school for engineering,” explained Wilson. “It was cool to use the skills we worked so hard to grow to give back in a specific way.”
All three women emphasize that employee volunteers played a crucial part in the success of the program.
“It is pretty amazing that we work for a company that provides us with opportunities to do something like this,” said Wilson.