Students Connect Curriculum to Engineering in Kansas City

Students at Argentine Middle School in Kansas City, Kansas are making the connection between what they are learning in the classroom and a potential career down the road. Eighth grade math teachers at this Kansas City Public School (KCPS) teamed up with Alfred Benesch & Company’s Kansas City office to offer students an opportunity to apply what they are learning while also seeing what a career in civil engineering entails.

Students meet at the Benesch office on Tuesdays and Thursdays to work on a sanitary sewer design project. Benesch designed and implemented this actual project several years ago, but with some modifications, teams of students are using it as a simulated engineering exercise. Each team plans a new neighborhood development, complete with streets, houses and a sewer system. Benesch engineers provide basic parameters, requirements and considerations, plus a budget. Each team determines how its neighborhood is designed and how their budget is applied. They use math skills for budget related decisions as well as configuring the sewer system and selecting proper pipe sizes and quantities.

Students are given tasks by Benesch engineers.

Being able to see how to apply math in a real life, job situation enlightens students with a purpose for all those classroom computations. In addition, they get to “try on” an engineering career—something they may not have known about or considered prior to the experience.

The first group of students to participate in this program shared the following reflections about their experience

“We are taught a lot of things in school and you wonder ‘What am I going to use this for?’ Here it showed me, ‘What I’m learning isn’t a waste of time’

“It also helped with teamwork skills because at school you’re working a lot by yourself, but in this kind of environment you realize that you won’t be able to do this alone. All minds have to be working at the same time. It’s just not one person.”

“When you work together, it’s kind of difficult to make choices even though you disagree with a partner you need to find a way to put your ideas together because it might become better than what you originally had.”

Benesch’s Kansas Division Manager, Chuck Bartlett, says it is a pleasure hosting and working with the students, showing them what a career in engineering might look like. “It was particularly gratifying to hear a student say this helped him understand why he is asked to learn what was being taught,” Bartlett said. In reflecting on the program, Bartlett is impressed with “how engaged and thoughtful these students have been.”

Dr. Tim Murrell, District Coordinator of Career & Technical Education Programs for KCPS expressed appreciation to Benesch “for making this truly transformative experience possible for the Argentine Middle School students.”

A second session of the program started recently, and interest from the students was overwhelming. Signup sheets filled up faster than KCKPS has experienced with previous programs, prompting a selection process for participation. That is great news for the future of engineering as well as for the school district’s focus on helping students make the connection between schoolwork, college and careers through the Diploma+ program.

The goal of Diploma+ is to provide each student with opportunities to not only earn a high school diploma, but also prepare for college and career life. In addition to college credit, industry-recognized certificates and military acceptance, Diploma+ will begin offering a number of different programs in the 2017-18 school year, including three focusing on Architecture, Engineering and Construction.

The overriding idea is to prepare each student for success in college and a career by the time they graduate. However, until then, Kansas City schools and teachers plan to continue looking for ways to make learning more fun and applicable with experiences like those provided at Benesch—showing students that their new knowledge is important for their future.