National STEM Day 2023
National STEM Day, annually held on November 8th, calls for young people to be inspired by science, technology, engineering, and math.
This inspiration is critical since STEM jobs consistently rank among the fastest growing professions in the United States.
We talked to several IEA professionals to commemorate this year’s STEM Day. This highlighted a variety of backgrounds and interests, revealing that the path to STEM is far from narrow.
“I was always good at math and chemistry,” said Stanley Elliott, PE, IEA Senior Project Manager.
Elliott’s experience includes roadway maintenance, drainage, and bridge construction, and he cites ongoing education as one of the primary ways he continues to learn and grow. He feels immense joy from helping his grandchildren with their math homework, insisting there’s more to AEC work than what meets the eye.
“STEM through engineering is not just about road and bridge construction but [also] affects everything from [the] environment to sustainability,” said Elliott.
Anu Kancherla, PE, an IEA project manager in Dallas, similarly comes from a seasoned STEM career which shaped the way she views and thinks about projects at IEA.
“[My experiences make me] think of the future vision and include sustainability as a viewpoint for projects at IEA,” said Kancherla.
Her work on Klyde Warren Park remains one of her favorite projects, uniting sustainable practices with transforming a signature part of North Texas into a more walkable city center.
“Building a park on top of a bridge is very unique to the transportation industry,” said Kancherla, reflecting on the urban green space built over Woodall Rodgers Freeway. “I enjoyed working on the challenges of the project and now enjoy taking my kids to the park.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 6.8 percent of STEM workers were 24 years old and under in the U.S. workforce in 2021. That number is just under 80,000 professionals across the country. The need for staffing in roles such as civil engineering, computer specialists, and social scientists has been an increased focus in recent years during National STEM Day awareness.
Engineering is “the ability to work with one another,” said Wilson Wong, PE, IEA’s Houston Area Manager. “It’s interesting to see how people from different backgrounds think in different situations.”
In recent years, STEM has transformed to STEAM to acknowledge the integration of arts into technical career paths. Encouraging the newer generations of engineers to bring in creative mindsets is important to increase employment numbers nationwide.
“I have a background in the arts, so I don’t have much of a [traditional] STEM background,” said Chloe Jones, who started as an engineer-in-training in IEA’s Fort Worth office earlier this year after a lifelong focus on theatre and acting.
“I signed up for an acting class [in Los Angeles] and within a couple of days I realized it wasn’t for me,” Jones said, whose pivot into STEM or STEAM began when she started applying to colleges as a mechanical engineering major, having done well on the SAT.
“I felt mechanical [would] lead me to work for oil and gas, which I wasn’t energized by,” Jones said. “I decided civil would let me do the math and problem-solving I enjoy, and I would still be giving something back in a way. Helping design the cities we live in and rely on.”
Ultimately it is these types of diversified experiences and backgrounds from new professionals that will continue to be the future of STEM.
“Engineering is a rewarding career to see what you build impacting the community around you,” Kancherla said. “It is fascinating to watch young kids and professionals find purpose in STEM.”