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Female student sketching a diagram at a wooden table, mentorship program to introduce students to AEC industry

Celebrate Engineering: Encourage, Innovate, Collaborate, and Contribute

Julianna Burke

Engineering contributions are all around us. These often-unnoticeable solutions help our society function and advance a better quality of life.

Each year, DLR Group celebrates National Engineers Week – a week of celebration founded in 1951 by the National Society of Professional Engineers. During this time, we join in on the national celebration to pay tribute to the engineers who are making an impact on our society; look to the future and the limitless possibilities of engineering; and encourage and inspire the next generation.

A People-First Approach to Engineering Excellence

We get involved and engage with the youth in our communities. We go to classrooms, participate in outreach events, volunteer, step up as mentors, and work directly with students.

In 2022, only 15% of all engineers were women and women made up only 10.9% of the construction industry. According to Research Center, the racial gap is even larger with only 5% Black engineers and 9% Hispanic engineers.

This disparity begins in early education as many students do not get exposed to engineering as a career path until it’s seemingly too late. A study by the Structural Engineering, Engagement, and Equity Committee showed that nearly 50% of structural engineering undergraduates are introduced to engineering through a family member. So, if you do not already have a family member in the engineering profession, you’re much less likely to be exposed to the profession. This results in a reliance on teachers, outreach programs, and independent research to learn about engineering as a potential career which leaves students – who do not have these connections and resources – without the chance to explore engineering.

The lack of student exposure results in a lack of diversity and new perspectives in the industry. We know that bringing people from all walks of life together results in broader and richer solutions. That’s why it’s imperative to continue actionable involvement in creating equitable opportunities for the new generation of integrated design professionals.

GENESIS STEAM x DLR Group Summer Camp hosted in Los Angeles. Photo © DLR Group.

What Outreach Looks Like

Throughout the year, DLR Group leads outreach events to engage with students nationwide, opening their eyes to the world of engineering. This starts with giving all students the opportunity to see what we do as engineers. We share examples of engineering projects and outline how they have a direct impact in providing innovative solutions that help serve such as the Pinal County Attorney’s Office project where biomimetic engineering created a thermally comfortable interior environment for occupants in the arid Arizona desert. Through specific design challenges, we then let those students’ imaginations and creativity soar.

EWeek 2023: Creating the Future

We celebrate engineers that make a difference in our world; we contribute to the conversation about the need for engineers, technicians, and technologists; and we engage students in engineering. This week, our engineering teams across the country are participating in various outreach events.

In Seattle, we visited a local elementary school to share what we do as engineers each day with 5th-grade students. Our engineers connected with the students by sharing their interests when they were their age and how that ultimately led them on a journey to becoming engineers. No story or journey was alike but got the students to start thinking about their own interests and what they love doing most.

Following these one-on-one conversations, our team took the students on a walk through the school showing them the different engineering aspects of the building. They pointed out everything from how the structural system works, how the building is heated, and even how the Wi-Fi system works. It was a great visual representation of how engineering is all around us.

To end it on a high note, the students were given a design challenge to create a tin foil boat that supported the most pennies. The students jumped straight into the challenge, brainstorming ideas, working as a team, and creating something new. Both the teacher and our team were impressed with how many pennies a tin foil boat could hold!

Students at Compton High School working on a design challenge for EWeek 2023. Photo © DLR Group.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, our engineers visited Compton High School. There, they shared the various engineering specialties and how integrated design and collaboration with the entire design team brings ideas to reality. From their reactions, we found that the students were fascinated to learn more and look at their environments through an engineering lens.

The passion and career aspirations were apparent from the students, but an understanding of the actual career path was still missing. It was important to share that though the “traditional” four-year university path may feel like the best and only option, it’s not. For many students, including those at Compton High School, jumping straight into this path isn’t always the most feasible option for a variety of reasons. To help reassure the students that straight A’s, valedictorian status, and attending a top university are not necessities, we each shared our personal career journeys to showcase how different they all were. Part of this was sharing the variety of routes that can lead to becoming an engineer: attending a community college or trade school, getting direct experience in the field, and more. We also provided resources for different engineering scholarships.

After a day filled with interaction and learning, our team ended with a design challenge for the students. Each team worked through the design process to see who could engineer the tallest structure. The students’ creativity quickly took over as we saw completely unique approaches to the challenge. Watching the students testing ideas through trial and error and finally having a breakthrough moment of finally getting their vision to work was invigorating. The students’ pure joy of accomplishment reminded me of why I love engineering and the joy I get from solving new problems and design challenges every day. 

DLR Group engineers at Compton High School during EWeek 2023. Photo © DLR Group.

What’s Ahead

This year’s Engineers Week has been full of wonderful outreach events and opportunities to engage with students throughout the U.S., receiving powerful feedback and giving us even more hope for the future.

While Engineers Week is a great reminder to reflect on the importance of getting involved, this is not a once-a-year effort, but rather a year-round commitment. DLR Group is devoted to continual outreach and mentorship throughout the year through K-12 outreach events, summer camps, partnerships with universities, mentorship programs, and high school internships. Here are just a few of the outreach events we have coming up:

  • Our Omaha team will be hosting elementary students at their office to show them a Day in the Life as an integrated design firm.
  • A few states over, our Denver studio will be hosting workshops at the GESTEM event to encourage girls into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Medicine) fields.
  • And our Los Angeles studio will be attending the Design by Diversity event to help develop a more diverse future Architectural, Construction, and Engineering Industry.

Investing to Ensure the Future of the Engineering Profession: A Two-Step Process

If we want to ensure a diverse and inclusive future, it starts with opening the door to those who would otherwise not see themselves in the engineering profession. The work doesn’t stop in early education – introducing K-12 students to engineering is only part of the equation. What we have seen and experienced is that real challenges occur as students enter their undergraduate education and then transition into the profession. Therefore, we’ve learned that developing the next generation of engineers is a two-step process.

Early education exposure needs to be followed up with mentorship, guidance, and support. Mentorship is a crucial aspect of building the next generation of engineers, as we can help guide emerging engineers through the challenges and hurdles – like post-education adjustment, career guidance, and more – that often deter prospective engineers. Take, for example, our emerging professionals’ experience which is in place to support interns and new grads gain a foothold within our firm and in their careers. We can empower these individuals to follow through on their passions and embrace their design voice to make a difference. The results are new ideas and solutions from bright minds tackling renewables, carbon reduction, and advances in technology.

Learn more about how we support the next generation through our Emerging Professionals Experience program.
Julianna Burke
Connect with me to start a conversation ➔ Julianna Burke, Structural Designer


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