President Obama has made it a priority to increase the number of students going into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) careers. Increasing education in these areas has been a major focus as a result, driven by a lack of qualified Americans entering these careers. This is all good news for youth interested in engineering. However, the participation of established engineers in outreach and educational programs is key.
“I got involved because of my boy, I stay in it because its fun and is good for the students” says Frank McCormack, Controls Engineer & Project Manager at EPIC Systems, Inc. McCormack is a Boy Scout troop leader and is a counselor for three merit badges (Energy, Engineering and Robotics). He has helped facilitate a STEM camp for scouts interested in science and math. Frank is not alone in volunteering time with engineering minded youth. Local organizations such as the ISA, Automation Federation, and the Engineers Club sponsor or send volunteers to youth engineering competitions. Several local Universities put on a variety of events that bring together students and practicing engineers.
EPIC Systems is involved in promoting the FIRST Robotics Competition (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) for high school aged students. Frank has been a volunteer at the FIRST competitions in St. Louis and another EPIC project engineer, Roger Seifert, manages and mentors a local team, the Lightning Lancers. EPIC Systems has helped as one of the corporate sponsors of this team and EPIC software engineers hosted a training session for the team’s student members
This national competition was founded by inventor Dean Kamen and sponsored by NASA, and is designed to interest young students in science, engineering and technology. The competition is an annual event, where high school students build a remote control robot to compete in that year’s “Game”.
The game usually consists of an “Alliance” three teams competing against another “Alliance”, in a scored event, trying to accomplish complicated tasks, performing offensive and defensive maneuvers. The contest promotes having “Mentors” (professional engineering and business people) on the teams to guide and teach the students, and to provide contact with good role models.
The student members work together to design and build all of the mechanical, electrical and software robot components. They get to use CAD design software and hand, power and machine tools, like drill presses, a mill, a lathe and welding equipment.
The contest starts the first Saturday in January, with a Kickoff at Clayton High School that begins an intense, 6 week period, where the students find out the requirements of this years contest and build a radio controlled robot to compete in the scored competition. The robot must be shipped off to the contest at the end of the 6 weeks. The regional competition will be in March, and is free and open to the public at the Chavious Arena – St Louis University.
The students also do research reports on the year’s theme topics, which gets them into contact with city and state government agencies for input. Each team presents their findings to the FIRST judging teams for evaluation. The best of the best get to go to regional and then the international competitions. Volunteer professional mentors assist teams in designing and building their competition bots and preparing their reports. In addition to the high school robotic competition, FIRST holds other related competitions, including a Lego competition for students in grades K-3.
If you are looking for places to get involved in developing the next generation of engineers, or, if you have a young engineer, here are few St. Louis Youth Engineering activities:
- Washington University’s iD Tech Camps
- Camp Invention
- Maryville College’s Summer Science & Robotics Program
- Boyscout STEM Camp at St. Louis Community College
- Boyscout STEM Camp at SEMO
- Boyscout Engineering badge
- Girlscouts STEM program
- FIRST Programs
- STEMS for Youth after-school program (Jan – April)
- Missouri Science and Technologies Summer camps, offering many options, including:
- It’s a Girl Thing (for girls interested in STEM careers)
- Explosives camp
- Robotics camp
- SAE Electrical Car Camp
- Minority introduction to Technology and Engineering
- University of Missouri Engineering Camp
- National Student Leadership Conference engineering challenges
- 4-H Robotics Program
- St. Louis University’s Engineering and Aviation Academy
- Wash U Pre-engineering Institute
- Ranken Adventure Academy
- Challenger Learning Center camps
- Bricks 4 Kidz LEGO camp