How hockey and engineering come together to teach kids about STEM careers
By Dale Watson
String, tape, noodles, marshmallows … and a passion for engineering. Those were the tools held by senior project manager Dale Watson and nearly 20 other Stantec team members who helped 16,000 Southern California students learn what it means to “think like an engineer.” Why? The Anaheim Ducks First Flight Field Trip at the Honda Center was dedicated to that very challenge. As you’ll see in our video below, Dale was there and had a blast (and so did the kids). It also left him with thoughts about why events and activities like this are essential in finding our next generations of genius engineers.
What is First Flight?
First Flight is a community outreach program created by the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks designed to get kids interested in science, technology, engineering and math, what we refer to as STEM.
What did the Stantec team do onsite?
We presented the kids with dry spaghetti, marshmallows, string, and tape and issued one challenge: build me the tallest building you can. Immediately, you could see their minds ticking, analyzing their approaches. They had to communicate and collaborate like engineers. After their initial attempts, we shared real-world engineering principles to help them make better towers.
Spaghetti? Marshmallows? What was your message for the kids?
Engineering goes beyond a desk job; you get to see the actual construction of your vision. The kids got to experience that first-hand with our tower exercise.
Why are events like this so important for the next generations to experience? Why is it important to us?
You can’t overlook the fact that the workforces in hard sciences like engineering, science, and physics, are still predominately composed of baby boomers. If we don’t start early, many of these kids will miss out on careers that they have a high aptitude for and settle for jobs they might not enjoy as much. There’s such a wide variety of opportunity in engineering that is being overlooked because kids are not being consciously exposed to what’s out there. That’s really ironic because they likely experience an engineer’s work every day through public infrastructure. It’s important for kids to recognize that there are actual people behind creating and designing the buildings, streets, and countless systems that make our kind of lifestyle possible.
What inspired you as a child?
When I was in school, I went with my friend and his dad to watch a construction crew resurface the runway of an airport that he designed. We got to test out the surface by riding go-karts on it. I couldn’t help but think, “Wow. This is awesome. The work these people did is super important and really fun.” For me, that’s the best part of being involved in an event like this … creating that “wow” moment for other kids.
What inspires you now?
It’s two-fold. One is selfish. I really enjoy the creativity involved in the design process. It is like creating art for people who do not draw very well. You have this blank canvas and you create something. Then, your drawings come to life through real construction in the form of a new street or building, etc. Being able to see something from your mind take actual physical form is an amazing feeling.
The second element is that engineering is truly about making a better world, helping people have a better life while preserving the beautiful world that we live in. I think a lot of people take for granted the clean water they have to drink, the road that takes them to work, or even the park they play in with their kids. Engineers and other designers play a role in providing all of those things to people. Our works of art get a lot of use over many years, even after the designers are gone. That is a real legacy.