Periodically, I get the opportunity to participate in a STEM teach-in through Orange County Public Schools. Wednesday, I taught 5 classes of 5th graders at Lancaster Elementary in South Orlando. It’s always incredibly fun for me. I use my experience in theme parks to introduce engineering to kids who otherwise might have very little interest in STEM. When I walk in the room, I introduce myself, “Hi, I’m Jeremy and I’m a Systems Engineer.” It’s awesome to see their faces change when I say, “I’m here to talk about engineering in theme parks.” All of the sudden, the kids pay attention and as we walk through the discussion and we talk about roller coasters, sensors, brakes, PLCs I get peppered with questions about how their favorite ride works. A couple of favorites – “Tower of Terror” and “The Hulk”.
Theme parks are a great way to introduce kids to engineering because nearly every discipline of engineering is represented in a theme park. Everything from Civil to Structural to Electrical to Systems (hooray, Systems!) appears somewhere in a theme park. For example, we talk about how Civil Engineers helped to drain the Florida Disney property (and build Seven Seas Lagoon in front of the Magic Kingdom). Every kid is surprised that the lake is man-made.
The goal of the talk is this: Inspire Curiosity. I hope that the next time they go to a theme park, they are listening for the trim brakes to open and close, they are looking for a linear induction motor, or they are noticing the track sensors. That is the greatest value we can bring to kids: inspire them to look around at the world around them and figure out how things work.
Thanks to the students and teachers at Lancaster Elementary and to Mark Van Hala, P.E. with Orange County Government for inviting me to participate in the Teach-Ins.