Promoting Engineering through Community Outreach
For thousands of years, engineers have been changing the world through the development of new technologies and systems that make our lives better. Modern engineers have taken that notion even further with the ongoing creation of life-saving medicines and Earth-friendly transportation networks — turning the once unimaginable, into reality.
As we acknowledge the remarkable feats that engineers contribute to society, we’re reminded of the importance of celebrating the difference our work makes to our individual communities — and the ever-present need to promote and engage with the next generation of engineers. For the engineers at Snyder & Associates, this idea is more than just a tagline. Our professionals spend countless hours every year reaching out to the youth in their respective communities to help provide insight into this rewarding career.
MATHCOUNTS®: Helping Students Build Confidence
Former MATHCOUNTS participant turned board member, Cindy Spencer, PE, Civil Engineer, utilizes the program to inspire and help students build confidence. “I first became involved with MATHCOUNTS as a 7th and 8th-grade student. The program challenged me to do my best and helped build the confidence I needed to tackle more complex problems,” says Spencer. “If I can help others have that same experience, then I feel I’ve achieved something important.”
In our Council Bluffs office, Civil Engineer and Planner, Elizabeth Hunter, PE, AICP, LEED AP, views her work organizing MATHCOUNTS events as the perfect opportunity to promote STEM topics. “Many young people may not even be aware of some of the exciting career paths they could pursue. MATHCOUNTS lets us open their eyes to the possibilities, potentially sparking an interest for the next generation of engineers.”
For over 30 years, MATHCOUNTS has worked to empower middle school students nationwide to reach their full mathematics potential through enriching, extracurricular activities. At its core, the program builds problem-solving skills through four levels of competition in which students compete alongside and against their peers. This year marks Spencer’s 8th year on the Central Iowa Chapter MATHCOUNTS board. For Hunter, her involvement stretches back nearly 7 years.
While most of Spencer’s work as a board member involves planning for the competition and scoring on the day of the event, what she enjoys most is meeting the students and helping them connect their skills with real-world applications. During a typical competition, Spencer has the kids solve a problem utilizing multiplication to address a common engineering task.
“By highlighting the practical applications of their skills, students get a better understanding of how they can utilize their talent outside of the competition and classroom,” she states. “It’s fun to show students how engineers help shape the world. Maybe they’ll become inspired by what we do and make it their career goal.”
Supporting Career Discovery & Readiness
For Snyder & Associates’ Engineering Technician Katie Wade, career outreach activities are the perfect opportunity to inspire.
“It’s fun to help raise awareness of engineering careers,” she says. “Your career is a big decision. If I can spark a glimmer in the eye of one student and shine some light on the darkness surrounding what they want to do, then I’ve made a difference.”
Recently, Wade and her colleagues participated in the Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) Career Discover Days, which encourages 8th to 12th-grade students to explore a variety of careers by touring area businesses, connecting with professionals, and participating in hands-on activities.
During the event, Wade and her colleagues presented an overview of their careers, answered questions, and shared real-life project examples with more than 50 students.
As a mother, Wade says it’s important to let kids know there’s a middle ground between a four-year degree and going to work right out of high school. She points to her role as an engineering technician as one of many career fields that pay well and are in high demand.
“We’re searching nationally and can’t get our hands on enough engineering technicians, they just don’t exist,” states Wade. “I think what we do is fun and by sharing information, I hope others might want to do the same because the demand is so great.”
Reflecting on her career outreach experience, Wade says a common misconception students have is they must be good at math to succeed as an engineering technician.
“It’s about using the same type of techniques to solve a problem,” she explains. “We’re here to solve problems, and you must want to be a part of that. The challenges we face and the software we use are evolving at a phenomenal rate, so it’s important to be a lifelong learner and enjoy problem-solving.”
Inspiring Engineering Across Borders
As a member of Nebraska’s Professional Chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB-NE), Barbara Johnston, EI, Civil Engineer for Snyder & Associates Omaha office, has positioned herself to help improve community quality of life in Malagana, Colombia.
“We volunteer in Colombia to help address water quality and wastewater treatment concerns,” explains Johnston. “The community expressed a strong interest in our work, and local kids shadowed us throughout the day to learn more about what we do. We had different groups learning about percolation tests, taking water samples, and surveying.”
Founded in 2002 by Dr. Bernard Amadei, Engineers Without Borders is a community-driven program that strives to build a better world through engineering and community empowerment. At the center of each project is a three-way partnership between EWB, the community, and a local partnering organization that’s essential to success.
“Community partnerships help us learn about the community’s reality, culture, resources, limitations, and data availability,” states Susana Lizcano, Ph. D., President of EWB-NE. “Everyone is committed to making their community a better place. They’re responsive, dedicated, and resourceful.”
“They prepared a thank-you celebration with tons of people from the community, which was a total surprise,” she shares. “It was humbling to see them express so much gratitude for our work, and it was fun to dance with the people we had been working alongside all week.”
Johnston is passionate about seeing the project through and looks forward to another opportunity to ignite inspiration abroad. “It was awesome to see the kids so intrigued by our work and eager to learn,” she exclaims. “I’ll definitely be ready to go back when the opportunity arises.”
At Snyder & Associates, we’re always looking beyond engineering — focusing on improving the quality of life within the communities we serve and call home, as well as the effect our work can have a world away. But we never lose sight of what’s truly important — inspiring the next generation to take up the mantle of this rewarding career and helping them recognize the power in their hands and minds to make a positive impact that reaches far beyond work.