By now you have most likely heard of “STEM” or “STEAM”, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Mathematics. There has been quite a push over the last several years from the scientific community to engage more young people in the STEAM fields. As an engineer myself, I fully support giving all young people the chance to experience the joy and wonder that STEAM can offer.
One way children are experiencing STEAM is through a local Tulsa program called Engineers’ Alliance for the Arts, or EAA. I reached out to current EAA Tulsa branch director, Daniel McClain, PE, and former, founding director David Schoell, PE to find out a little more.
When did EAA get it’s start?
According to McClain, Engineers’ Alliance for the Arts was started in the San Francisco bay area in 2000. Tulsa was the first expansion program, starting in 2014. EAA still thrives in the San Francisco Bay area incorporated into over 30 schools.
What does EAA do? “EAA’s mission is to inspire and educate students about the interaction of art, architecture, engineering, and construction,” said McClain. “The EAA program inspires and educates students by exposing them to engineering and design using a STEAM curriculum that combines technical and artistic components.” When asked to summarize the EAA curriculum, McClain said, “Students participate in a ten week program where Architects, Engineers, and Construction Managers come into the classroom to work with the students to complete a project. The project is comprised of choosing a real-world scenario where someone, somewhere, needs a new bridge. The students work together in teams to design, build a working model, and present this project before a panel of judges comprised of area experts in the fields of Art, Engineering, Architecture, and Construction. The teams compete against each other for various awards and cash prizes donated from area firms and organizations.”
Who does EAA reach?
Since 2014, Tulsa’s EAA program has served well over 250 students at multiple high schools across the metro, including Union High School, Central High School, and Edison High School. EAA programs are designed to make STEAM learning opportunities accessible to everyday high school kids.
“By holding engaging mentoring sessions during class time, EAA strives to reach students that may not have access to afterschool programs,” said Schoell. “Additionally, EAA’s approach is to reach students in general classes, not advanced placement or honors classes.”
What are kids in EAA learning?
On the surface, EAA programs provide kids an opportunity to be exposed to basic structural engineering concepts, the design process, and model making, while honing their presentation and writing skills. While these experiences are great by themselves, the take-aways are much deeper.
McClain describe EAA as “offering students the unique experience of working with engineers and designers to learn problem solving, team building, and presentation skills in a project-based setting. Through EAA’s Student Impact Project, the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry’s next generation of leaders get to try out the roles of structural engineer, designer, architect, builder, and more, under the mentorship of real AEC professionals.
What does the future look like for EAA?
EAA is growing – across Tulsa, and nationally!
“The schools we work in are encouraging and enthusiastic,” said McClain. “I have a back log list of more teachers and schools who want to participate, but we are limited by the number of mentor volunteers we have.”
Schoell affirmed that the demand is there, but expansion of EAA depends on attracting volunteers. More structural engineers, architects, and construction professional are needed to mentor kids and facilitate the curriculum and design process.
“Time demands for EAA mentors can be tough sometimes, so just finding the right people to participate can be challenging,” said Schoell.
Why should AEC professionals consider getting involved in EAA?
When I asked McClain if there any particular highlights of working with EAA, he said “My take away each year is getting to watch students who think they could never be an engineer or they think they aren’t smart enough to be in a STEAM career. I love working with them for 10 weeks and watching their eyes light up when they see their project come together and possibly win an award at the final contest. My hope is for the students to grow and find a career path down the road involved somewhere in our built environment community.”
“The more volunteers we can get – the more students we can reach!” concluded McClain, noting the volunteer commitment is only one hour a week for ten weeks.
I would love to see EAA grow into more local schools but we need more mentors to volunteer. If you have a background in the construction industry and want to help kids learn about STEAM, please consider volunteering with EAA. If you wish to participate as a mentor, please reach out to Daniel McClain at firstname.lastname@example.org