Burns & McDonnell engages local youth to court tomorrow’s scientists and engineers

Jacob2One of Science City’s newest exhibits is designed to make it fun to learn about genetics.

Visitors to the Unlock the Code exhibit can dance to assemble proteins. They can digitally clone themselves. There’s even an electronic simulation where people can try on a new set of genes.

While there’s no sure-fire way to make learning about science fun and engaging for today’s students, the leaders at Science City in Kansas City can feel confident that Unlock the Code is a hit. After all, students created the idea behind the exhibit.

2014-Science-City-Exhibits-Grand-Opening-0012Unlock the Code was one of two student-inspired exhibits that opened at Science City in 2014 as part of the Battle of the Brains contest created and funded by Burns & McDonnell. The top entries in Battle of the Brains have their exhibit ideas permanently built into the museum. Winning schools also receive grants from Burns & McDonnell to improve their math and science programs.

“You won’t find exhibits like these anywhere in the world,” says George Guastello, president and CEO, Union Station Kansas City, Inc. “The two exhibits are massive — spanning more than 5,600 square feet—and are completely interactive. Thanks to the inspiration of these brilliant young minds and the innovative professionals at Burns & McDonnell, these permanent exhibits are the most fun and engaging classrooms you’ll ever experience.”

Battle of the Brains is just one part of Burns & McDonnell’s work to get Kansas City-area youth to understand that science careers can be engaging and rewarding.

Burns & McDonnell has a comprehensive K-12 outreach program that includes everything from job shadowing to engineering camps. In August, Burns & McDonnell hosted its first Educators Summit to help connect the gap between the K-12 Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) curriculum offered in schools and the real-life needs of businesses in our community.

“The interest in this topic was so great, the summit sold out within just a few days,” says Melissa Wood, chief administrative officer at Burns & McDonnell. “Educators had the opportunity to explore everything from how Burns & McDonnell professionals used STEM skills to link to the Next Generation Science Standards in solving real work problems, to participating in a discussion with a career readiness panel that provided an inside look into skills needed for a successful STEM career.”

The Burns & McDonnell Foundation is currently dedicating 50 percent of its budget toward STEM issues. These efforts touch tens of thousands of students each year—more than 10,000 students have participated in Battle of the Brains since 2011.

“Burns & McDonnell is deeply committed to promoting STEM education in our region and across the country, because STEM jobs are critical to keeping our country competitive,” says Wood. “Jobs requiring STEM skills are now growing at seven times the rate of non-STEM jobs. Statistics show that by 2018, more than two million STEM jobs in the U.S. will remain unfilled because there won’t be qualified candidates to fill them. Burns & McDonnell is dedicated to helping reverse those statistics by engaging children at an early age in both STEM education, and ultimately a STEM career.”

Greg Graves, chairman and CEO of Burns & McDonnell, agrees.

2014-Science-City-Exhibits-Grand-Opening-0010“Labor statistics show us that STEM careers — like engineering — make up more than one out of ten jobs and pay nearly twice the U.S. average, but getting kids interested in these fields early is a huge challenge,” says Graves. “Our goal with Battle of the Brains is to give kids a glimpse into their future to see how these awesome careers can make a difference, not only in their lives, but in contributing to the advancement of our nation.”

Judging by the reaction from local students, the investment is quickly paying off. All of the students who helped create the Every Last Drop exhibit—which was constructed alongside Unlock the Code—are now pursuing math, science, and technology careers.

“It’s so cool to see how our idea that we brainstormed together in class has come to life at Science City.” says Cooper Yerby, a graduate of Olathe North High School and one of the brains behind Every Last Drop “This whole experience has been life-changing.”

Wood said comments like this are what make education so rewarding for the employees at Burns & McDonnell.

“Their reward is seeing the magical moment when a student sparks to STEM education and finds his or her passion – and ultimately a path to a rewarding career,” Wood says.

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