Discussion Thread

  • 1.  Early STEM Memories

    Posted 07-16-2020 11:48 AM
    I was just looking back through some previous discussions*, and a few STEM activities we did in elementary school came to mind.
    They didn't necessarily directly influence my decision to be a civil engineer, but they did spark my interest in the fields of science and engineering.

    Are there any memories you have from childhood that sparked your interest in STEM?

    When I was in 4th grade my teacher received a grant from the oil and gas industry in Oklahoma. We did a lot of activities related to engineering and geology with the grant funding.

    One that I particularly loved was when we learned about taking core samples.
    We made layers of "rock" and "soil" with things like gummy worms, marshmallow, crushed oreos, bread, etc.
    Then, we took clear straws and pushed them down through the layers. 
    Plugging the top of the straw with a finger, we gently removed the "core samples" and examined the varying layer properties.
    That was my very first introduction to geotechnical engineering.

    Another activity that we really enjoyed was building oil derricks out of straws with marshmallow or gum drop connections. They had to straddle a gap and hold weights added from a string hanging in the middle of our structure.
    Maybe the coolest part of that was that all of the sponsors for that activity were dads. I'm not sure we'd ever had a dad volunteer in any of my classes up to that point.
    We had a few dads in the energy and engineering industry, and it was great to see dads investing in our collective education.
    (Moms helped out with other STEM activities, so it wasn't the teacher thinking only men could help with those kinds of activities)
    That was one of my first introductions to structural engineering in a formal setting.

    I'd love to know if there are any experiences that you recall sparking your interest in STEM

    *Related discussions that sparked this post:
    LEGO inspiration by @Danielle Schroeder

    favorite hands-on STEM outreach activity (also by Danielle)

    STEM Outreach by @John Weiland


    Heidi Wallace EI,P.E.,M.ASCE
    Tulsa OK

  • 2.  RE: Early STEM Memories

    Posted 07-17-2020 10:37 AM
    Hi Heidi--

    I love the description of the core sampling activity!

    I don't think my elementary school had much in the way of hands-on science experiences, but we always had science related magazines such as National Geographic available at home. I didn't read the articles, but I loved looking at the pictures and reading the captions. My 5th grade teacher enjoyed birds and we memorized many different species.

    Middle school and high school had plenty of lab work. I don't remember what we actually did with potassium permanganate (KMnO4) but we used it alot! I remember having to write it down frequently in lab notes. By high school I was sharing my interests with younger cousins, taking them along on nature hikes and "helping" them build radio kits.

    Jeannine Finton Aff.M.ASCE
    Senior Manager of Pre-College Outreach
    Reston VA

  • 3.  RE: Early STEM Memories

    Posted 07-20-2020 09:00 AM
    Thanks, @Heidi Wallace for the shoutout! Your post on the LEGO thread really got me thinking, particularly this part of your post: "I do wonder if I had known more about civil engineering as a kid if I would have decided on it sooner." 

    I had many STEM opportunities growing up (LEGOs, enjoying math and science classes, dad being in the construction field&building the house I grew up), but I didn't connect them to Civil Engineering until much later in my life. 

    The first time I remember hearing the word 'engineering' was when I attended a Girls Camp at Widener University. We got to sign for a bunch of different engineering labs and the one that I still remember to this day was the Chocolate Asphalt lab. In this lab, we made cookies while paralleling the procedures used to produce asphalt pavements which was awesome! 

    Also, props to all the parents out there who have taken the time to volunteer at their kid's school. I don't currently have any kids of my own, but when I do, I hope to volunteer at my kid's school as much as I can, even if it is just to come read a book to the kids about engineering to help support the future generation of engineers! 

    Danielle Schroeder EIT, A.M.ASCE (She/her)
    Associate Engineer
    Pennoni Associates
    Philadelphia PA

  • 4.  RE: Early STEM Memories

    Posted 07-20-2020 09:55 AM
    I love the idea of the Chocolate Asphalt! My steel design professor in college was a concrete researcher. He was talking to us about his concrete mix design elective and said, "if you can make cookies, you can batch concrete. It's just ingredients mixed in the right amounts following the directions." (I sometimes use that logic in reverse on the guys at work; if you can batch concrete you can make yourself cookies. Haha)

    Heidi Wallace EI,P.E.,M.ASCE
    Tulsa OK