KC steps up to support engineering students

The 300-some high school seniors who slipped into Burns & McDonnell’s World Headquarters on a rainy September morning heard one message loud and clear: Kansas City is invested in preparing its students for STEM careers.

The students, all enrolled in Project Lead The Way’s Engineering Design & Development course, were gathering to kick off their senior capstone projects with a citywide team of mentors from the business and startup communities. But first, they heard why they might not need to go far to score a rewarding career.

Burns & McDonnell CEO Ray Kowalik

Burns & McDonnell CEO Ray Kowalik

Burns & McDonnell CEO Ray Kowalik shared how Kansas City’s civic leaders are working together through an initiative called KC Rising to strengthen the community and build on its success as a leader in the engineering and architecture sectors.

The Kansas City region is home to one of the largest concentrations of leading architecture and engineering firms in the nation, Kowalik said, and the work happening here is changing the way people live and work across the nation and around the world. Did you know that designs by Kansas City firms provide water to 20 percent of the world’s population? During a breakout session just for teachers, Steven Levy of the KC Civic Council reiterated the region’s support for STEM education.

Leigh Anne Taylor Knight, executive director of the DeBruce Foundation, encouraged students to use new tools such as the Agile Work Profiler to examine opportunities that might be a natural fit and to determine which skills to hone to land their dream jobs. And she offered an enthusiastic reminder that many of those dream jobs are available right here in Kansas City.

Students then heard why it’s important to start their work with the customer in mind from Matt Zimmerman of Johnson Controls and entrepreneur Sarah Shipley, who shared her own learnings from launching Off Kilta Matilda, a line of STEM teaching tools.

Students who still needed ideas for their projects worked with KC Startup Foundation and other mentors from the business community in a brainstorming exercise designed to generate ideas.

Those who already had project ideas in mind met in small groups with mentors to discuss how to validate the problem, think about how to test market and examine the feasibility of the solution and how to fine-tune the problem statement. All students then had the chance to network with all of the participating mentors before heading back to school.

Students’ work will culminate this spring in a Senior Showcase at Kansas City’s Union Station, where the public will be invited to see the solutions they found by working through the design process.

Special thanks to all of these area organizations for sharing your staff to mentor students:

Affinis Corp
Alfred Benesch and Company
Black & Veatch
Burns & McDonnell
Cambrian Tech
Code Koalas
Ennovation Center
Erise IP
Gibbens Drake Scott, Inc.
Google Fiber
Helix Health
Johnson Controls
K State Innovation Center
Live By Change Consulting
Mac Water Technologies
McQueeny Group
Red Nova Labs
Rockhurst University
Shipley Communications
The Collective Fund