“I didn’t want to go,” says Kate Kreienkamp, PE, referring to high-school enrollment in engineering camp, “but at the end of the week, I knew that engineering was what I wanted to pursue.”
Kate’s older sister had expressed an interest in attending the camp, and her parents thought it would be a good opportunity for Kate as well.
“I had always enjoyed math and general service to others, but camp was the first time I realized that engineering was a career option.” Looking back, Kate admires the college students who helped organize and facilitate the camp. Their volunteerism, donating their time to encourage and inspire future learners is truly an ideal to emulate.
With that in mind, Kate became an active member of STEM Partners in 2019. Started in 2011, STEM partners is a STEM mentoring program led by TechPoint Foundation for Youth in partnership by Eli Lilly and additional corporations. The program’s goal is to connect STEM professionals with classrooms across the state to expose students to real-world experiences.
Kate visits a 4th grade classroom every 2 weeks to assist with STEM education. The curriculum developed by STEM Partners is based on experimentation rather than endless chapters of textbook reading. Studies show that students who engage in STEM experimentation are more likely to follow engineering as a career choice.
A recent experiment had students studying isopods, aka roly-poly bugs, in differing soil conditions. The experiment was set up to determine what soil conditions are favored by the tiny creatures that inhabit our backyards and gardens.
“I’m helping students make connections and think critically,” explains Kate. “The students make their own hypotheses, but sometimes say ‘I don’t know why this is happening.’ To give them a nudge, I’ll ask them what kind of behavior they observed the last time they noticed a roly-poly In nature.”
Kate emphasizes that even failures in experimentation can lead to learning opportunities, ways to improve, or gain understanding as to why results were unexpected. Beyond her technical assistance, Kate is another adult in the classroom, allowing the teacher to spend more one-on-one time with students.
It was this dedication to classroom education that led Clark Dietz Central Indiana Area Manager, Kevin Hetrick, PE, to nominate Kate for the American Council of Engineering Companies of Indiana (ACEC IN) education committee.
“Kate has taken a proactive role in helping to mentor engineers as long as I have known her. Whether helping interns and younger engineers at Clark Dietz, presenting during E-Week at community schools, or volunteering to assist with monthly lessons for a local STEM teacher, Kate routinely shows outstanding commitment to building the future of our profession.”
The education committee serves the purposes of assisting classroom students and providing college scholarships. Kate’s involvement with the committee has led her to interaction with another age-group: middle school students.
“Most of them,” Kate mentions, “have already thought about what they want to be when they ‘grow-up.’” So she provides an opportunity for the students to ask her questions about what she does at her job on a daily basis.
Kate also brings in real-world examples of her work, sharing projects with students and asking them to posit likely structural considerations. She applauds the students' efforts while they consider the implications of the effects of snow or earthquakes on buildings or bridges. Kate notes that each time a student shares an idea or question, more students gain the confidence to speak up as well.
“It’s really important for students to see professionals in the classroom, and especially for female students, it helps promote engineering as a realistic career choice.”
When students show interest in engineering disciplines, Kate offers suggestions on what classes to focus on during high school to set themselves up for higher learning opportunities. Kate thinks back to her own education and the effects it had on her career path.
“I attended an all-girls high school that emphasized empowering women,” notes Kate.
She recalls her first university group project, when two male students assumed leadership and attempted to relegate minor roles to Kate and another female student. Kate adds, “I spoke up and ensured that my counterpart and I would have just as much participation in the technical research as the male students.”
Unfortunately, many women will experience this bias not only during their educational career, but following them into their professional lives as well. Kate offers her advice as graduates enter the workforce; she notes that candidates should seek firms with a strong culture of supporting each other.
“Clark Dietz judges people by their ability, not who they are,” says Kate, “I often have had coworkers pull me into conversations or offer my expertise to clients to reinforce my value as a professional.”
But for those just entering the workforce, how can they evaluate potential employers? Kate suggests, “Look for the green flags. Use the tools available to you.” She notes the importance of networking, “Mention that you’re considering a job and see what other people in the industry are saying about that firm.”
Kate notes that her Clark Dietz coworkers have backed her from the start. As a female in a predominantly male industry, her visibility has never been infringed. Further, she appreciates the mentoring, community service focus, and general encouragement that the firm provides.
Kate also stressed the value of using the interview process to your own advantage. “Interviews are a great way to gauge firms as much as they are evaluating you.”
“Is the interviewer stressed?” asks Kate. “When you ask them about what they enjoy about working there, are they scrambling for answers? Are they sugar-coating anything? Use your intuition and ask yourself if they seem genuine.”
With individuals like Kate helping to support engineering foundations, we feel optimistic about the success of future engineers.