Elementary School STEM Program Connects Industry Volunteers, Students

What started as a call for volunteers to help in a STEM classroom took on a special meaning for Canessa Hunter—both personally and professionally.

Although they both worked at Ricardo, a global strategic, environmental and engineering consultancy, Canessa and Sarah Keegan never met before volunteering at Emerson Elementary School.

Over the course of eight weeks, they formed a connection that continues to this day—with both talking about how much they loved giving back and helping fourth graders in Detroit. They still regularly post pictures from their experience to the company intranet and even have an entire folder on the shared drive just for SAE and the A World In Motion® (AWIM®) Gravity Cruiser Challenge. Their enthusiasm has even become contagious—sparking interest in volunteering with future AWIM classrooms from their coworkers.  

The fourth graders, on the other hand, took a little bit longer to warm up to their classroom visitors. “What do you know about STEM?” they asked. “Are you educated?” “Do you have degrees?” To help establish trust, Canessa made it a point to promise that she’d be there for every class and would always do what she said she was going to do. Any question they had, she answered. 

By the second class, the students started opening up. Once they broke into teams, they had to work together to make sure everyone had a chance to participate on their Gravity Cruiser builds. Although they all had great ideas, they also understood there were times they had to compromise. 

On the last day, students couldn’t wait to test their vehicles. There were four to five lanes marked off in the hallway. Even when their Gravity Cruiser traveled beyond the required distance, the students wanted to do it over and over and over again. Each time, they would make adjustments based on their performance to get their vehicles to go faster and farther. It was obvious they all wanted to win. 

Once the event was over, Canessa couldn’t wait to tell her coworkers. She even took her Gravity Cruiser into work to show it off. “Do you have to be an engineer to volunteer?” “Are you sure the fourth graders build this?” they asked. 

Canessa’s advice to others thinking about volunteering with AWIM? “Try it out. Maybe you’ll like it. I didn’t know what to expect but I’m thrilled I did it. The students were such a joy to be around. I’m so happy they opened up to me and let me mentor them,” Canessa said.        

Industry volunteers like Canessa play a crucial role in AWIM’s PreK -12 STEM education program—mentoring young leaners and opening the door to possible STEM careers. Learn more about volunteering with AWIM.   

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