Inquisitive twins Grace and Mercy Krani haven’t grown up with engineering influences but have always enjoyed math and science classes.
Fortunately for the 11-year-olds, the Salvation Army Kroc Center in South Omaha in conjunction with several engineering firms provided them with that introduction last fall — and they loved it.
During weekly classes aimed at engaging kids of varying ages, the sisters and other children had a chance to see the practical — and fun — side of engineering and how it impacts their daily lives.
“We learned a lot and had a lot of fun during the classes,” Mercy said. “I never really thought about how our roads and bridges are made and how important they are to the community we live in.”
Grace echoed her sister’s sentiments, adding that “it was so fun to see the real side of engineering — not just something you read in a book.”
“Working with the different things from each class really made it real to see how important engineering is in our world.”
The multi-session program — known as Engineering Adventures at the Kroc — occurs each fall and spring. It grew out of the Professional Services Economic Equity and Inclusion Plan (EEIP) for engineering and architecture firms started by the City of Omaha several years ago.
One of the goals of the plan is to increase youth outreach and training in construction-related trades. As a result, many firms were doing things on their own to meet the goals and objectives.
That seemed unnecessary, so Kyle Anderson, an engineer with Felsburg Holt & Ullevig, brought several firms together in a united effort. Engineering Adventures at the Kroc evolved from that.
“Several firms helped establish an ACE (Architecture-Construction- Engineering) Mentor Program focused on high school students,” Anderson said. “In an effort to develop an alternative program for firms to collaborate and to reach younger students, I reached out to JEO Consulting Group, HGM Associates and Kirkham Michael to see if they would be interested in working on a program for younger students with our staff. We also reached out to the Durham School of Architectural Engineering & Construction.”
Representatives from the firms met several times to develop a strategy and approach.
“Kirkham Michael had done some work with the Salvation Army Kroc Center and asked them if there would be any interest in providing an engineering or STEM program for the kids that they serve,” Anderson said. “They were very excited about it, so we started working on the first curriculum, which was called ‘Bridge Busters.’”
Because each of the participating consulting firms offers a diverse group of professional services within the engineering industry, there is no direct specialization for particular nights or courses.
According to HGM Associates Vice President Steve Moffitt, there is an equitable division of leadership for each particular course, but each one is based mainly on an equal contribution versus a specialized involvement by any particular firm.
The intent is to provide a hands-on learning environment for ages 8 to 12 to model activities of the real world.
“Numerous construction and building activities are included to engage the kids at all levels,” Moffitt said. “The kids definitely respond better to the hands-on activities.”
The six Monday-night sessions in each module cover a variety of civil engineering disciplines:
» Bridge Busters, in which popsicle stick bridges are built and tested to see how much weight they can hold.
» Water Wizards, where kids learn what happens to rain water and build a model watershed.
» Road Warriors, where the focus is on transportation engineering, and kids build a model roadway.
Anderson said curriculum planning involves all member firms. Currently, they are working on a fourth module, which will start in March.
He said last year they saw many of the same kids in the fall and spring, and the Kroc Center has been a great location and partner for a variety of reasons. For the Krani twins, the center is near their home and St. Thomas More Catholic School, which they attend.
It’s the interaction with kids and seeing their eyes light up when they learn something practical about engineering that takes the professionals back to when the light first went on for them.
“The funny thing about the program is the conversations between the professionals involved with the classes. We’ve all shared that one moment we remember as a kid when we saw something or experienced something that made us decide engineering was the career path we wanted to take,” said Jonathan Peterson, a project manager with HGM Associates who participated in the weekly courses. “The possibility of providing that opportunity to kids today is definitely rewarding.”
Anderson said he enjoyed working with the kids, who showed a definite aptitude for and interest in learning about the engineering concepts behind the activities.
The kids’ awareness of the community and environment allowed them to see how engineering influences their daily lives.
“They always had a lot of questions and good discussions,” Anderson said. “We had a good mix of boys and girls in the classes, and we were glad that Ann Nissen from JEO was able to join us last spring and last fall for our sessions.
“The more we can showcase more minority and female engineers, the better chance we’ll have of attracting a more diverse group of engineers for the future.”
Nissen, a project engineer with JEO Consulting Group Inc., said she enjoys seeing the excitement of the kids and the opportunity to show them engineering isn’t just about numbers but about building better, functional things for the communities where we live.
And she especially enjoys being an example for young girls interested in engineering as a career.
“The program allows us to introduce young girls and boys alike to careers they may not otherwise be familiar with and help them to recognize that they are fully capable of pursuing a future in engineering,” she said.