College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Guest post: Outreach events show kids they have what it takes to be engineers

Shaun VanWeelden
Shaun VanWeelden
Shaun VanWeelden is a junior in software engineering who participates in several outreach activities to showcase Iowa State engineering to the community.

Shaun VanWeelden, junior in software engineering, serves as vice president of outreach for Engineering Student Council and student chair of FIRST LEGO League (FLL). He also participates in outreach activities for several other campus groups. 

I knew I wanted to be an engineer at Iowa State after seeing students at the time doing really neat demonstrations. Whether it was a project or a fun activity with LEGOs, those experiences sold me on engineering. Fast forward several years, and I’m now loving my time here at Iowa State. Today, those experiences are why I get involved in outreach activities – I want to show others that engineering is one of the coolest things you can do. If there’s a chance I can get someone to share in the same experience I had, that moment when I realized engineering was for me, then I’ve done my job.

Engineering Student Council hosts several events to introduce engineering concepts to kids across the state. This fall, we hosted “Engineering Middle School Day”, where we invited several local schools to see what engineering at Iowa State is all about. More than 170 kids came to campus, and they got to see a virtual reality demonstration, listen to a presentation by the Material Advantage group as well as interact with 15 student organizations.

We also held a smaller event at a middle school in Clarion, Iowa, this spring. Students there got to do an activity involving paper airplanes, which was a fun way to introduce engineering concepts to about 140 seventh and eighth graders. The best part, in my opinion, was how the entire class got involved. It didn’t matter how good at math or sports the kids were, all were laughing and having a good time as they were trying to create an original airplane design.

Our outreach stays close to home, too. Earlier this month, we held Engineering Day at the North Grand Mall in Ames so local families could enjoy engineering based activities. We also make it a point to help with campus activities like the VEISHEA Service Day.

I want kids to learn from these events that they CAN be engineers; that being an engineer is so much more than how well they do in math or science classes. It’s about building things, coming up with solutions to everyday problems and being creative.

So many times at these events I see kids pushing past the stereotype that engineering is only for the smart, nerdy kids, and they realize that science and engineering can be cool and really fun. It takes all kinds of people to come up with solutions to engineering problems, and it’s beneficial to open their eyes to the opportunities that are out there for them.

My work with FLL is probably the most inspiring. The planning team puts in hundreds of hours that all come down to four days – three days of regional qualifiers throughout the fall semester and one day for the championship early in the spring semester. But it’s totally worth it. We directly impact over 4,000 Iowa kids a year, not to mention the thousands of siblings, neighbors and friends that come away from these events excited about learning more about the engineering process.

During the awards ceremony at the end of the FLL state championship – when you see hundreds of kids on the floor of the Howe Hall Atrium chanting, wearing crazy hats and shirts, and giving out high-fives to everyone around in the name of engineering and science – you know these kids get what it means to be an engineer. You hear their stories about how they overcame issues, how they learned something new, how they work better as a team than on their own. It’d be hard to find a place that matches the level of energy and excitement for engineering and science.

I truly believe that every student at Iowa State should be involved in outreach. It’s a meaningful way to give back, and it’s fun, too. We are all here because someone inspired us to pursue this opportunity, and it’s only fair for us to share that with others.