I feel that it’s only right that this post be issued with a disclaimer, I work for Burns & McDonnell. This post isn’t all lovey-dovey about how it’s the greatest thing since the electric car, they win enough awards to speak for themselves in that arena. Instead, this is focused on something the company is definitely doing right, and what I wish other companies would focus on.
For years now the company has been dumping a ton of money into grants for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) related grants for schools and students throughout the nation… I believe the figure is hovering around $5 million in the last couple of years. But two years back, they took their investment to a whole other level.
One of the paramount problems (in my eyes) with the education system in the US is that we don’t put enough of a focus on directing our students into fields they could prosper in. STEM related degrees are 15 of the 20 fastest growing careers right now and will continue to be in the immediate future, according to projections by the US Labor Department. The question often comes as to what is the best way to get our kids interested in these fields. The talk of the highest grossing salaries across all of the major industries doesn’t do it.
Enter Burns and McDonnell…
In order to inspire, not force, kids to entertain the idea of what is possible in a STEM focused career. Burns and McDonnell teamed up with the Union Station at Kansas City to create new exhibits for Union Station.
Up for grabs is $155,000 in grants for local schools that win the competitions, and for the students… seeing what you’ve designed actually be built.
The current competition wrapped up a few weeks ago, and from 500 entries between the two classes (primary and secondary education) they have been whiddled down to 20 finalists. Now these finalists are currently out for a public vote to see which exhibit will win.
To give you a feel for what sort of items different schools have decided on, here’s a couple of my favorites:
One World One Well – Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy
“Water is essential to all living things and getting enough fresh water is becoming a big problem. One World One Well aims to inform and inspire people to take action so that everyone can lead a healthy life, now and in the future. Visitors can interact with a fountain, experimenting with forces and water by using a pump to send the water skyward. A huge Archimedes Screw moves water uphill, which then cascades down in a chain reaction. Some visitors can turn the crank to move the water uphill while others use a virtual app to create their own chain reactions with water as a theme. These elements demonstrate water in motion in several ways, including a waterwheel and buckets that change the motion from vertical to horizontal, water splitting into two channels to turn on a light bulb or ring a bell or a boom box sending sound waves into the water to make the water wobble. Central to the exhibit, a Well of Life emphasizes the theme of sustainability. Visitors can retrieve water-drop sandbags from the well and carry them to another section of the exhibit, transporting them to parts of the world where water does not come so easily from a spigot. A touchscreen shows how much water each person needs each day to survive, comparative data for water usage in different parts of the world, what scientist and engineers are doing to help the problem and how to conserve both individually and as a community.”
A Journey inside the Human Body – Blue Springs High School
“You live in a fascinating machine. Inside the human body are some of the most complex and rapid reactions in the universe that combine to create a living, breathing human. When a problem exists in just one system it can wreak havoc on other systems, often challenging medical professionals to reason and problem-solve to diagnose a patient. At A Journey Inside the Human Body, visitors interact with different body systems and explore how to diagnose and treat diseases and disorders that threaten homeostasis. Walk into a human heart and see from the inside how modern medicine tackles cardiovascular disease. Enter the digestive system surrounded by the walls of the small intestine and observe the absorption process that fuels our existence. Explore the latest diagnostic imaging techniques to better understand the healing process of bones. Enter into an area modeled to simulate striated muscles to learn about muscle structure and how to strengthen the muscular system. Walk through the brain—the powerhouse that allows the rest of the body to thrive. The science of anatomy and physiology serves as the basis for understanding the human body. This exhibit will not be confined to the physical space in Science City; it also incorporates an online learning environment that will provide a virtual look inside the human body. With a similar setup as the physical exhibit, the online portion allows visitors to further explore the interconnectedness of our body systems and the role disease plays.”
Don’t like my choices, that’s fine… there’s 18 others that you can choose from. Not only that, you have two days left to vote on which ones are the best.
Also, I’d love to hear what you think about Burns and McDonnell’s approach to inspiring future STEM focused students. Do you think that this is a good idea? What would you have done differently?