Engineer Gives Back to Give All Students a Chance at STEM

Fifth grade. Like many kids, for Cory Cathrea that meant being rambunctious, running around at recess, and playing football. STEM was the furthest thing from his mind. In fact, it wasn’t until years later as an 8th grader that he even knew that STEM existed.

What a difference those three years can make. The younger the students are when they’re first exposed to STEM, the easier it is to get them to fall in love with it. Early access to STEM concepts builds student confidence, fosters ingenuity and creativity, improves learning outcomes, and best of all—it can be really, really fun.

“Something that goes fast is cool. Something I can beat my friends in racing is also cool. It’s always great to have bragging rights, but seeing something whiz around the classroom makes learning fun.” Currently a Product Development Engineer at Raytheon Technologies, Cory is hoping to inspire curiosity in STEM with the next generation of rambunctious fifth graders by serving as a volunteer with SAE’s A World In Motion (AWIM) STEM education program. As an AWIM alumnus, it’s his way of giving back for something that meant so much to him when he was a student.

Part classroom volunteer, part cheerleader, part mentor and friend, every Tuesday from 8am-3:30pm over three months, Cory found time in his busy work schedule to help teach 198 fifth through eighth grade students basic engineering concepts while also sharing lessons learned from his own STEM journey.

It’s an experience he’ll soon never forget. “I’m trying not to get choked up. I had such a great time with the kids.”

Each year, AWIM opens the world of STEM to thousands of students around the globe—students who might otherwise not have access to STEM. Students just like Cory. Hands-on STEM experiences such as AWIM’s Motorized Toy Car, Gravity Cruiser, Glider, JetToy, and Hydrogen Fuel Cell Car bring engineering and design concepts to life in fun and creative ways—helping to blend classroom learning with real-world applications.

Some students might think math is scary or that engineering just isn’t for them—something Cory is quick to debunk. “If you just give it a chance, I’m pretty sure something you find inside of engineering is for you. That’s something that’s really beautiful about AWIM.” It’s that positive reassurance from teachers and industry volunteers that can be so incredibly powerful—letting students know it’s okay to try things and make mistakes. In fact, it’s all just part of the engineering and design process.

Over the first two years at Sevilla West School in Phoenix, AZ, Cory and a team of engineering students from Grand Canyon University, Cory’s alma mater, quickly grew the AWIM program from one classroom to 15. Their ultimate goal is reaching all 900 students. Instead of waiting until high school, students now have the opportunity to get involved with STEM at a much younger age than otherwise would be possible.

“I wouldn’t be where I was today without AWIM.” By sharing his time, personal experiences with AWIM, and passion for STEM, Cory is helping to inspire the next generation of STEM innovators.

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