World Engineering Day: OMEGA Volunteers with Chicago Public Schools

Last week for the inaugural World Engineering Day, OMEGA stormed Chicago Public Schools and brought engineering to 200 6th through 8th graders.

Six of our OMEGA engineers volunteered their time last Wednesday to teach students about their careers as civil engineers in the Chicagoland transportation industry. We had a great time teaching local Chicago kids about civil engineeringexplaining the perks of working in a field making a true and tangible impact on the cities we live in.  

kids creating bridge made from straws

What is World Engineering Day?

OMEGA was inspired to make a difference this year, in part, because of the exciting inception of the very first World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development. Originally proposed by the World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO) as part of their 50th-anniversary celebrations of the Federation in 2018, World Engineering Day is a UNESCO celebration day of all the different types of engineers and engineering in the world 

Abraham Perez explaining the activity to Hitch Elementary School students.

Why is World Engineering Day Important?

World Engineering Day was founded to encourage organizations such as governments, firms, public and private sectors, schools and universities and citizens of the United Nations system to take action and spread awareness about engineering. The proposal received more than 80 letters of support and was backed by more than 40 nations and representing 23 million engineers across the globe! 

Uzziel Fernandez leading the presentation on Engineers: Pioneers of Progress

According to WorldEngineeringDay.netan international day with coordinated celebrations across the world is an opportunity to increase the profile of engineering. The Day is also an opportunity to engage with government and industry to address the need for engineering capacity and the quality of engineers around the world and develop strategic frameworks and best practices for the implementation of engineering solutions for sustainable development.” 


Building the profile of engineering, and spreading awareness about the importance of engineering is a win-win for all because engineering impacts nearly every aspect of our daytoday life and is vital to the future solutions of world issues such as access to clean water, sanitation, reliable energy, and other basic needs.


Not to mention climate change, growing cities, pandemics like coronavirus and the navigation of challenging new technologies like artificial intelligence and self-driving cars 

world engineering day: engineer working with kids to explain how to build a bridge made of straws
Alex Kovacs working with a group of students on how to design a straw bridge.

How World Engineering Day Advances the Goals of the United Nations

The United Nations recognizes engineers and engineering are critical to achieving their sustainable development goals which include: 

  • Developing and implementing technologies and systems that will progress solutions to global issues related to water, energy, environment, sustainable cities, natural disaster resilience.  
  • Design and develop resilient infrastructures to address climate change. 
  • Support the growth and development of sustainable economic development such as roads, railways, bridges, dams, waste management, water supply and sanitation, and digital networks in both developed and developing countries. 
  • Develop inclusive technologies and innovations benefitting all people and the planet for greater prosperity and better quality of life. 
engineer working with kids to build a bridge made of straws
Joe Garb leading a team on how to build a straw bridge.

All across the world, there are major issues which engineers will be responsible for solving and in order to solve these massive issues, we need the best and the brightest choosing engineering as a career. World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development works to help move the needle by reaching a wider community— spreading the word about these issues and the need for engineers and engineering as a solution.  


Taking Engineering to the Chicago Public Schools: How OMEGA Participated in World Engineering Day

In honor of World Engineering Day, OMEGA collaborated with Junior Achievement of Chicago and Chicago Public Schools to provide a hands-on experience for 6th through 8th graders at Hitch Elementary. On March 4, 2020, our OMEGA volunteers led the class in an introduction to engineering discussion, followed by a timed engineering challenge where students split into teams to build a bridge made of straws.


The goal? Create a straw bridge using only tape, scissors and 20 non-bendable straws which could span the length of 20 centimeters and withstand the weight of 200 steel washers.  


Sound easy? Not so fast. The activity was timed, students had to work in groups and the straws were less than 20 centimeters each.  

OMEGA Engineers from left to right: Josh Topper, Uzziel Fernandez, Abraham Perez, Alex Kovacs, Joe Garb and Kat Au


“Some kids used the tape to reinforce the straws, so it was easy for them. Others focused on building a more complex structure to look more like a bridge, which added complications to the structural soundness of the bridge,” said Uzziel Fernandez, OMEGA Engineering Intern. It was fun to see how they worked together to come up with an idea the team agreed on, and it was also cool to see how different each of their designs were.”  



Some of the engineers instructed their classrooms to spend 10 minutes in a design phase where they worked as a team to design a bridge before diving into the building phase. Spending time designing allowed the students to participate in Phase II and Phase III of the simulated project, mirroring how engineers work out in the world while also emphasizing teamwork.  


What did our OMEGA Engineers think about Volunteering with Chicago Public Schools?

As a bonus to making a difference and spreading awareness about engineering, our engineers also had a great time working with the kids. 


“I’m grateful OMEGA gave me an opportunity to give back to our local community. Working with Junior Achievement to provide an educational activity to middle schoolers was exciting and fun,” said Josh Topper, OMEGA Construction Engineer. “Assisting these young kids in designing and constructing straw bridges was a very rewarding experience and I was thrilled to introduce engineering to the next generation.” 

Kat Au, OMEGA Materials Engineer also volunteered and was excited for an opportunity to show the students in the classroom that construction management is a great field to be in as a woman and minority. 

“When we were asked to volunteer for Hitch Elementary, I didn’t hesitate to get involved. I like working with kids and I want them to see a female and minority working in this industry especially because construction management is a heavily white male-dominated industry.  It’s important to show that other people can and do work in this industry,” said Kat.

“I also like working with kids because, ultimately, they are our future, and I like to think that us working with them– even to build a bridge out of straws– helps more boys and girls consider engineering as a career. The problems we face in Chicago as well as the problems we face in the world—many of the solutions to these issues are dependent on engineers and the engineers of the future. Plus, it was really cool to see the kids cheer and high-five when the straw bridge they built could support the weight of 200 washers.” 

Kat Au teaching class about engineering.
Kat Au teaching the class about engineering.


Kat is a veteran when it comes to working with kids, also participating in the Future City Competition earlier this year. Some of our engineers were a little hesitant to lead a classroom but ended up finding the experience rewarding and fun. 


Related Post: Future City Chicago Regional Competition: Supporting Students and the Future of STEM


“Building bridges out of straws with the students was something I was a little nervous about having never really worked with kids before, but it ended up being a really enjoyable and gratifying experience,” said Alex Kovacs, OMEGA Construction Engineer. “I loved seeing the kids fist bump and high five when they figured out a way to build a bridge, and it reminded me of why I went into engineering in the first place. Their excitement was definitely infectious, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to hopefully inspire some kids to think about engineering as a future career.” 


Abraham Perez, OMEGA Construction Engineer, echoed similar sentiments. “Working with the kids was a really rewarding and fun experience. They asked great questions and I was able to clear up some misconceptions about engineering—like what kind of salary you might expect to make in Chicago and how much college you need to become an engineer,” he said. “The kids really got into the activity, and hopefully some of them might look into engineering as a viable career because of it.” 

What are the Biggest Challenges Engineers will Face in the Next 25 Years?

Recently DiscoverE completed a survey of more than 10,000 engineers from all over the world. The survey discovered 54% of engineers believe we will have a shortage of engineers in the future and 58% believe we will have a shortage of technicians and technologists in the future. These careers are paramount to addressing the survey-identified top challenges engineers will face in the next 25 years: 

  • Securing cyberspace 
  • Economical clean energy 
  • Sustaining land and oceans 
  • Sustainable and resilient infrastructure 

Also in the survey, 96% of engineers stated volunteering with primary and secondary students to introduce them to engineering is importantOur volunteers couldn’t agree more. In order to face those challenges head-on and create solutions, we need to work with children to ensure the future of our world and engineering is in good hands. 

How did you Participate in World Engineering Day?

Did you participate in World Engineering Day? Share how you participated in the comments below.  


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