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Math, science and… hockey?

How hockey and engineering come together to teach kids about STEM careers

By Dale Watson (Irvine, CA)

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.

Dale Watson is a senior project manager in Stantec’s Community Development team. 

See more of Dale's experience at the Ducks’ event in this video

Transcript of the video follows
skip transcript
<p>Matt Savant</p> <p>We’re here today at the Anaheim Ducks First Flight field trip.&nbsp; This is a great event. This year we have 17,000 people packing in Honda Center.&nbsp; Our owners Henry and Susan Samueli really support the community and they’re looking for companies like Stantec to actually help find educational careers in engineering for students.&nbsp; There’s math, there’s science and this year we’re focusing on the engineering so it’s something new for us but it’s a really cool opportunity.&nbsp;</p> <p>Danny Craig</p> <p>They’re all here to learn about science, technology, engineering and math.&nbsp; The fun thing is that they’re also learning what it means to think like an engineer.&nbsp;</p> <p>Dale Watson</p> <p>This is really good design, you guys.</p> <p>Kids</p> <p>We built a tower with marshmallows and spaghetti noodles. It was hard because the marshmallows were sticky and the spaghetti would bend and it would break.&nbsp; You need to have a good foundation to build taller.&nbsp;</p> <p>Danny</p> <p>Today we’re getting them excited about what it means to design. Even if that’s with pasta and marshmallows, they’re still getting interested in our career, what we do, how we do it and maybe that’s going to plant a seed later for them to even be a future leader in our industry. &nbsp;</p> <p>Dale</p> <p>We’re providing different activities that teach about engineering and scientific physics problems so that they get a firsthand knowledge and look at the things that they’re going to learn in school.&nbsp; With engineering there’s such a variety of opportunity, it’s really good for them to be exposed at a younger age.&nbsp; Whenever you can spark their knowledge, then that’s what is interesting to them, because they really like to be challenged.&nbsp; They don’t want to just be told something, they want to get their hands on and really make it dirty.&nbsp;</p> <p>Danny</p> <p>I think the reality is that Stantec is a company that designs with the community in mind and when we get to take that principle out of our offices into the community for a real event like this, where we get to inspire future designers, it’s exciting for us.&nbsp; It’s exciting for us to get to embody what we do not only at the desk but out in the community and that’s what we’re doing today. &nbsp;</p>

It’s important for kids to recognize that there are actual people behind the buildings, streets, and systems that make our lifestyle possible.

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