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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Up and Running: Public Works’ Project Legacy


“Most people opt out of hard things,” remarked noted astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, correcting a reporter’s assertion that “kids opt out of hard things.”  Tyson was asked in a recent interview to explain why so few kids today are pursuing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) courses while in school. 
A public works technician explains the workings
of the city's traffic signal control system to students
from the West 7th Community Center's summer camp
The lack of young people entering STEM fields today is a trend that is very concerning to agencies such as Saint Paul Public Works, which ranks among the state’s largest engineering firms.  Engineers of the Baby Boom generation are retiring from the field faster than they are being replaced.
In an effort to help reverse this trend, this year Public Works launched “Project Legacy,” a program of outreach and fellowship for the city’s prospective STEM professionals.  The program is designed to interest students in the STEM disciplines by giving them a glimpse of what’s involved in a career in engineering.
To date, Public Works staff have participated in the program by appearing in panel discussions about preparing for a career in engineering, guiding tours of its facilities, and giving talks about the design of the city’s bridges.
A public works civil engineer discusses
the Lafayette Bridge's structural features
with students of the West 7th Community
Center's Summer Camp
Although still in its fledgling period, Public Works hopes to expand the program to include staging classroom problem solving challenges, one-on-one mentoring, and job shadowing.
The program targets middle school-aged students through partnerships with the Saint Paul School District, West 7th Street Community Center and Breakthrough Saint Paul.
As Public Works spokesman Dave Hunt explains, “Once kids reach the middle school grades they’re far enough along in their development that they’re giving serious thought to what kinds of courses they’ll take in high school.  The aim of Project Legacy is simply to get kids thinking about careers in the STEM fields, and with that interest created, the idea is they’ll take up STEM courses while they’re still in school.”






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