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Bringing engineering into the classroom

Through hands-on activities and personal story sharing, more than a dozen ODOT employees brought learning to life for Oregon elementary school students this past March.
 
Volunteering with the STEM Connect (science, technology, engineering and math) program, the employees visited schools in nine counties to promote careers in science, technology, engineering and math to populations under-represented in STEM careers. The STEM Connect program, sponsored by the Business Education Compact, engages business and government partners with neighborhood underserved schools (low science and math scores; high levels of free and reduced lunch) to increase interest and achievement in math and science for 4th and 5th grade students. Research shows that negative interest in math and science usually begins in children in this age group. Students who show interest in science and math tend to get better grades, take more advanced courses and are more likely to pursue STEM majors.
 
“The STEM Connect program has given me the opportunity to introduce civil engineering to students with limited exposure to this career,” said Gustavo Vela-Moreno, a graduate engineer with Region 2. “The kids were really involved and made many connections between what we shared and their experiences with transportation construction. I hope that this presentation will serve to motivate the students in pursuing a career in the STEM fields and perhaps one day serve their community by working at an agency like ODOT.”
 
With the permission and support of their supervisors, volunteers went through training and were then matched with classrooms in their area. Kris Wall with the Strategic Business Services Unit in Salem helped coordinate ODOT’s participation in STEM Connect. “Thank you to all the volunteers,” she said. “You’ve shown these kids a new world of opportunities.”
 
Volunteers included Shirley Adams, Jennie Armstrong, Kellie Bordeaux, Adam Bradford, Peter Elder, Kevin Haas, Bert Hartman, Stephen Hay, Gary Obery, Donny Pfeifer, Nelly Salazar Lazaro, Sean Triana, Gustavo Vela-Moreno, Eric Vought, Thomas Wallace and Naomi Zwerdling.
 
Wall found the experience of volunteering inspiring. “All I can say is that it has really been a life changing experience for me,” Wall said. “The kids are so hungry for this attention and encouragement.”
 
According to the U.S. Department of Education, just 16 percent of American high school seniors are interested in STEM careers, with even fewer pursuing those careers after college. The STEM Connect program is great way to spark interest in math and science and a fun way to show that engineering and technology are cool and achievable career paths.
 
“A heartfelt thanks to ODOT,” said Susan Parsons with BEC. “Your investment as a seven-year National Engineers Month partner demonstrates your strong commitment to furthering STEM literacy in our schools. ODOT volunteers have single-handedly impacted 14,000 students during that time! Most of all, it’s the classroom students that thank you for investing and believing in them.”