EECO Asks Why Podcast

153. Idea - Building Up S.T.E.A.M.

September 22, 2021 Electrical Equipment Company Season 5
EECO Asks Why Podcast
153. Idea - Building Up S.T.E.A.M.
Show Notes Transcript

Buckle up and hang on as Mary Bruce Clemons unpacks the topic of STEAM in this idea conversation. Many will remember Mary from her hero episode where she journeyed from Harley sales to engineering and for those that missed it you'll quickly pick up on her passion for industry.  Many are familiar with STEM initiatives and Mary explains how the "A" (which is where arts are introduced) is where true connection can be made with so many young minds.

She breaks down how modern medicine would not be what it is today without the focus on arts and how doctors communicate visually to solve the most complex problems.  As far as when to start concentrating efforts with the next generation she suggests that around eight years old is a great age to begin introducing these concepts.  At that age they can handle critical thought and problem solving and most importantly their egos won't hold them back from embracing these areas and growing individually.

Mary explains how she's been involved with STEAM Day and the impact that it made on the kids and the community.  From K-12 thousands of kids came together to learn about many of the areas of STEAM and who knows the future paths that were paved.  It's about getting hands on and bringing the concepts to life and with the right support and focus events like these make a tremendous impact.

Grab your kids and listen to this fun filled conversation that could change their life.

Guest: Mary Bruce Clemons - Industrial Controls Technician at TW Controls

Host: Chris Grainger
Executive Producer: Adam Sheets
Podcast Editor: Andi Thrower

TW Controls

STEAM initiatives:

Steam Day:

Local education institutions contribute content and engagement to a wide range of regional youth k-12 via an annual trade show and interactive experience in Roanoke, Virginia. Hosted by Virginia Polytechnic Institute at the Science Museum of Western Virginia, Taubman Fine Art Museum, and the Virginia Transportation Museum

 Virginia Education Strategies:

Grant writing agency dedicated to connecting education and industry by navigating educational and manufacturing institutions.

Mini Maker Faire:

“Maker Faire” is a global brand that local areas can work under as a wagon wheel initiative brand. These events are held locally and are built by their communities to connect with children to increase industry in the long term.

STEAM Academies in SWVA:

Science Museum of Western Virginia:

Vector Space:

Habitat for Humanity:


Ologies with Alie Ward:

Box of Oddities:

00:00 Mary: 

And if you give less specifically just for the sake of manual literacy, it will come back to you tenfold because those manual literacy fanatics we're out here doing podcasts and, you know, trying to find ways to interact with our community. So that another kid like us, that wasn't getting to participate, doesn't have to wait so long to do it. The why would be it's a future investment. If you think that finding people for the jobs that you have is hard now, wait another 10 years.

00:27 Chris: 

Welcome to EECO Asks Why a podcast that dives into industrial manufacturing topics, spotlights the heroes that keep America running. I'm your host, Chris Grainger. And on this podcast, we do not cover the latest features and benefits on products that come to market, instead, we focus on advice and insight from the top minds of industry because people and ideas will be how America remains number one in manufacturing in the world. 

Welcome to EECO Asks Why. Today we have an idea episode and I'm calling this one building up S.T.E.A.M. Yes. You heard me correctly building up S.T.E.A.M. and to have us walk through this conversation, I have Mary Bruce Clemens and she's in industrial control technician at TW controls. She told me, she said, make sure you say this I'm an alternative education enthusiast. And I love it. Cause this topic of S.T.E.A.M. is something that we haven't talked about before. It's new for our listeners. Very excited. So Mary welcome. How are you doing today? 

01:26 Mary: 

Good. How about yourself?

01:26 Chris: 

I'm doing great. Looking forward to this conversation. When I first met you and you brought on the topic of S.T.E.A.M., it caught me off guard because I'm used to S.T.EM., not used to that A so maybe can you explain to the listeners out there that may be new? What S.T.E.A.M. is? 

01:43 Mary: 

Absolutely. It's actually a pretty contentious topic in the science and technology world to have that A thrown in. S.T.E.M. is an acronym to sum up a subject of study. Science, technology, engineering and math. And part of the contention is that, A, when you throw that in there, that brings the arts.

The arts can be a whole lot of different things. It's a pretty subjective definition on what it is. And I think that's probably where the contention comes from because it can't really be narrowed down as to what it is, but in our engineering fields and everywhere else, we use the arts every day.

02:20 Chris: 

Right. Yeah. I know you, you were so passionate when we were talking about the A, so what is, you know, why do you feel that A is such an important element? 

02:30 Mary: 

That's the first introductory point of personal interest that I think that anybody can get when they're going to study science, technology, engineering, and math. Before we have language, we have art. And until we learn language, that's how we communicate with crayons, with whatever we can do smashing up buttercups on the ground to draw pigments. That's the first part of manual literacy that any of us ever become familiar with. 

So when we're toddlers and we're trying to stick square pegs in round holes, and we figured out that square pegs go to square holes. That's the beginning of engineering. That's the beginning of, all this. To not include it, in my opinion is something that is, unfortunate because I think that a lot of those folks that think in a binary concept, they think that they're not good at being creative, but they're problem solving every day. And so to exclude that as being a lesser than area of study is sad cause that's how we still communicate about it. 

03:24 Chris: 

Right. I am curious like how long has the S.T.E.A.M. initiative or I guess that's even the right terminology you've been out there. Is this relatively new adding that A cause, I mean, I've heard about S.T.E.M forever.

03:36 Mary: 

I mean, it's definitely been a heavy part of the conversation since the early two thousand. Possibly even before that. So it's been a long term, both in academia and in the field all the way around, you know? And I think really the people that kind of experience art through science and science through art are the ones that are probably the ones that are not dropping the mic on it.

 A big part of the scientific field would be photography that didn't, get invited into like 1839. So there's a whole period of time in Victorian medicine where people are trying to figure out about human bodies. How do we communicate what we just found in this cadaver to other people, you got to draw it, you have to illustrate it and you have to illustrate it in fine detail. You got to draw textures, you got to draw lines, you got to draw patterns, all of that stuff. And all of those things are components. To every single slot in that S.T.E.A.M. acronym. 

04:30 Chris: 

I mean, I hadn't even thought about that, but you're right before the photography, a lot of that stuff was just handwritten documented. And I guess to be a really good scientist or an engineer, you had to have some artistic ability to be able to communicate your findings. 

04:42 Mary: 

That's where art has been carried so long and it is by doctors and scientists and still in other places where we cannot purchase a nano camera to communicate what's going on right now. We just need to draw it. That's why whiteboards are everywhere. When you go to hospitals, you got to be able to draw it out. First person I ever saw illustrate for me on a regular basis was my family doctor. I mean, he drew everything that was going on in our bodies. He would put it on either a tongue depressor or a napkin or something. He drew it out for it. And that was very helpful when you don't have language, you don't care what a big word means, but if you show me a picture of a toenail, I'm going to know we're talking about toenails, right? 

05:17 Chris: 

That's right. No doubt. Yeah. 

05:19 Mary: 

I'm going to pick the better body part. 

05:21 Chris: 

Well it's one we can all relate to. There you go. Well, you know, you were talking about earlier about your passion for helping people learn alternative education. And a lot of times when we think about S.T.E.M, we think of hitting the high school age, maybe the, even the young college early career. And I know you're pretty passionate about, you know, going earlier. So what age do you think leaders need to start thinking on and focusing on to start getting that next generation of those industrial leaders? 

05:51 Mary: 

In my experience. I think that about eight years old is about when you can handle the responsibility of critical thought, problem solving, your ego and ID don't fire back and forth at each other too much on your interpersonal level. You can kind of formulate your own thoughts and you feel strong enough to typically support them with additional comments. As you start to get older, we start worrying about who thinks we're cool or smart or other things start to matter through our adolescent process, but that eight year old age is right brain to be picked to start trying to get a wider net of kids thinking about things that they want to do for their future because we end up with a whole bunch of high schoolers that want to play basketball professionally, or they want to do music professionally. And all of those things are wonderful, but it's also great to have some concepts on things that help our civil society function on a daily basis. 

06:47 Chris: 

For sure. So that's what second, third grade, somewhere in there that. 

06:52 Mary: 

Yeah. I think that's about it second or third grade. 

06:54 Chris: 

Yeah, that's a great age. They absorb so much at that age. They're still exploring new things, new concepts, new ideas. So I'm with you. 

07:03 Mary: 

They're not as concerned about the gender barriers that happened later. As kids start to grow, then it starts to get pocketed into male and female. And what those binary things mean for those which trickles down as far as the fields that people choose to study. And I think that's a huge reason why we end up having more males in the industry than females is because we literally get loped off and we're taught a completely different curriculum than the fellows after pretty quickly, which is. No more or less applicable than what they're being taught, but they're just so much closer to seeing behind the door than we are. 

07:34 Chris: 

Yeah. Now, when you think about, you know, impressing that eight-year-old or trying to create an experience for them, you think about career fairs, usually that's high school, even college, where these manufacturers, these different companies come in and they're advocating what they do. What should be done differently because I don't think you would do the same approach for an eight-year-old as you would a 17 or 18 year old? 

07:57 Mary: 

I'm so glad you asked that question. The answer to that, in my opinion, is art. You use it as the crux for everything. So career fairs, even as an adult, is a snooze Fest to me. Right. So, I mean, like trade shows, all that stuff. It's wonderful, but there's a time and a place. And really, unless you're passionate about what you're presenting there, it's hard to get anything done. Art's a fantastic way to pretty much relate it to any human because somebody's got an interest. I mean, we're all alive here and that's basically just it's social studies, it's physics, it's sociology, it's history. So all of those things, each one of us has some kind of internal motivator that is outside of math and angles and, you know, that's our humanistic portion that we can kind of relate to the rest of that. 

08:40 Chris: 

I mean, so from an art standpoint let's take it another level deeper with an electrical standpoint for someone, if you're trying to talk to an eight-year-old about a career, like at TW Controls and what you're doing there now, so you have some pretty cool things behind you there displays and things to play with. Would you be pulling that type of material in to, but let them get hands-on? 

08:59 Mary: 

With lower voltage. Yeah. So I think that with lower voltage, that's a great idea. I actually pulled out a machine recently working on an exhibit. Science museum wants some kind of system that indicates how fast the kid would run through two points. And in that we need a micro-controller. And I know that some of you guys have heard about micro-controllers and I don't know a whole lot about them yet, but I'm getting ready to find out all kinds of stuff. But that's a five volt board where kids are able to learn how to program stuff, five volts is great. You don't have to worry about losing your eyesight for very long with that. That's fantastic.

09:35 Chris: 

Yeah it's not going to make your hair stand up. 

09:37 Mary: 

Yeah. Just for a short period of time, but I mean, that's fascinating and that's intricate stuff. And a lot of these kids are just able to regurgitate it, that they don't even have to think about it's become a second way for them. So these kids are already doing automation, they just haven't connected the two dots. So they're thinking more like robots. They're like I need this robot that looks like humanoid features. And that's what I'm going to do with that feature. They're not thinking about hold on. Every single thing that I have in a hundred-yard distance of me, it was probably brought to me by some kind of PLC.

And if you can learn that you basically ruled the world, you know, like you, you know how to do the whole thing. And those grander concepts of not being able to see where it goes or what it does, even people in the industry, not being able to find something relatable for an eight-year-old, it becomes more difficult, but with conversations like these, we can start to kind of look at it with our kid brain. We have to kind of turn that stuff on occasionally. What would I have thought about this when I was eight? 

10:27 Chris: 

There you go. Now you also mentioned something new to me. I'm sure it's new to some of our listeners as well, but S.T.E.A.M. Day because it sounded really cool. And I'm thinking, is that impacting that age group or is it a little bit older and maybe just explain to us what S.T.E.A.M. Day is and what your experience has been with that. 

10:45 Mary: 

Absolutely. So S.T.E.A.M. Day is a local initiative here in Virginia. Virginia Tech is who is responsible for the majority of that, but they've gotten a lot of other industries involved, not industries, but a lot of other big groups of people involved like the local community college, the art museum, transportation museum. And I think that what everybody notices in this field of S.T.E.M and S.T.E.A.M. Is that there's enough of us here that we could throw a heck of a party. We can throw a heck of an awakening. We just got to be able to do the right thing in the right order with the right types of things that keep a current kid interested in right now. 

S.T.E.A.M. Day was drawing thousands of kids to our area from up to an hour away. So we were coordinating who gets brought, how they get brought, where they're going to go. And the age groups that we're involved in that we're all the way K through 12. So we're introducing kindergarteners. It's hard to do hands on education with kindergartners, with an objective, like really, you don't want to dim their little child light by making them produce things, but it's possible to show them. And it's possible to have them experience grander concepts of like mixing materials together and seeing what happens. As those kids gain his experience, even if you think you don't get anything out of it that day or within a year, that kid's probably going to remember it until they're 50 years old.

You know, that one day we got to do this thing where we had never been allowed to do it before. And it was celebrated that we did it. Like those little markers of agency are the things that keep us enthused in that forever, but the original question was S.T.E.A.M. Day. So S.T.E.A.M Day is great. So they, we basically would break it up into a whole bunch of different facets and send, depending on what age group it is because you've got a lot of civil engineering on, okay, well, we can't have, you know, the kindergartners in the transportation museum, that's going to be bad. So trying to put them in the proper locations for thinking about a caretaker and then also what's the product that we want to come out of it. We want to see people having fun. We want to see people exploring. Well then you just got to put them together in the right spots for that. 

12:46 Chris: 

Nice, Nice. So I guess, was that the first year of it before the pandemic, or has this been happening in the past? 

12:54 Mary: 

This has been happening in the past. So this year it actually switched like a month before it, we had been planning, and it switched about a month before that we needed to go virtual. Everybody on this planet was learning how to do virtual education and that whole school year is going to be interesting to see what happens with it because there was so much of adult energy spent on just trying to get the communication with the kid and maybe get real time, you know, like if we could still send out illustrations, we can do that, but like with worksheets and stuff, when you're in school, you get a visual representation of it talking relaying back to the scientific illustrations. 

It's hard to communicate without pictures. And so that's why we wanted that eye-to-eye engagement. And so when you're doing hands-on stuff and the big Bada Bing Bada boom is in the room and you're not, you know, it does create a barrier, but ultimately it was another kind of win because it got a lot of people involved that wouldn't have been able to travel that far to come see you.

13:49 Chris: 

For sure. And for our listeners, we'll make sure we put in our show notes to link to S.T.E.A.M. Day so you can check it out for yourself. And, you know, I know Mary you're very passionate about, other programs of maybe talk to the parent out there who has a, let's just stick with that eight-year-old, and they want to do more themselves to intentionally expose them to S.T.E.A.M. or just to get them involved more some of these types of areas. What recommendations would you have? 

14:15 Mary: 

Don't give them the answer. You can start at home by just don't we'll supply the answer to your kid. Give it one minute for them to kind of make a hypothesis. What do you think is going to happen? And it's hard in our everyday world to try to slow up. We're all impatient. We all have things to do. We've got goals we've got to meet. If I give this kid a minute, we're going to be 9:30 to get into bed. Deal with it because letting them explore, thought on their own and explore those mistakes. Make mistakes in the first place. Make sure they're not going to break anything like their arms or their faces. Those are hard to replace, but if they break the object, it was an object the whole time. It was just an object, but they learn how to not break it again. And the company that I work for that's really celebrated. If you didn't try it because you were afraid of breaking it, then there's a problem you need to just go ahead. And it's just an object. 

15:03 Chris: 

Right, right. You mentioned some places too that some families may enjoy checking out mini maker, vector space, you know, places like that. I mean, anything you could expand on there? 

15:14 Mary: 

Absolutely. And in every area, there are going to be multiple initiatives for types of programs like this. And if not, even if you can't personally either pay a fee to get in there, you can always volunteer your time. And just being near people, doing that stuff is helpful at doing basically creative thinking exercises. That creative thought is how we think about how to inverse a problem, how to solve it, how to take variables away.

But one of my favorites that is really good is in our area, it's found a way to get teenagers involved on another kind of level is habitat for humanity. They pretty much have every layer that you can think of in that S.T.E.A.M. agenda that needs assistance with. And they're finding innovative ways because their name is big enough. They're finding innovative ways to get volunteers paid through alternative funding. In Lynchburg, Virginia, there's a place called Vector Space which is dedicated to teaching trade in an artful way. And then Maker Fair is a global initiative that allows industries to kind of use that branding to popularize and make things like S.T.E.A.M. Day Roanoke, just happens to have both. So the science museum takes on Mini Maker Fair here. Virginia Tech really wants to recruit obviously students, but all kinds of stuff. And so they have taken on the helm of trying to do giving back through local initiatives for excitement.

And so I can't imagine that anybody that would be listening to this wouldn't have access to at least four or five different kinds of programs. And this isn't just like a kid summer camp where they go and look at robots. All of this stuff is everywhere all the time. And even small coding groups that are at libraries and access to 3D printers. I mean, this stuff is everywhere. Do not forget about your local library. They usually have one of the coolest 3D printers you've probably ever seen. And it's just sitting in a closet because that's kind of what that stuff does unless you have enthusiasts together kind of tackling it because not everybody has answers to everything and it makes it a lot, lots of fun. If you have to go Google it or look it up in some other way, if you guys can kind of commiserate about the problem, that makes it a lot more exciting. So you can gather groups, go to the library and use all of their filament to make your wildest dreams come true. And then pay your fines and keep it moving, right?

17:31 Chris: 

I mean, that sounds wonderful. Great advice for the listeners out there too. And you mentioned a couple of times funding behind it. I don't fully understand how funding works for these types of programs. So how does that work to get industry support? 

17:45 Mary: 

Absolutely. Before the pandemic it worked a little bit differently and what it will function like after this pandemic will be remarkably different from even that where folks find funding for these types of initiatives typically come through grants and other city funding. So you could write to your city and say, I am interested in getting this type of group together. Our goal would be to increase recruitment to several different industries. And this is how we're going to do that. And so you just make an appeal for fun. Same thing with grants basically a grant is just asking somebody for money and you're saying, this is what I'm hoping to do with that. Yes, it's really fun for us. We're all into it. Other people that are not into it are usually the ones that are in the rooms that are making the decisions about the money. So you have to really put your heart and soul into it. But when everything went online, as far as education, a lot of grants were brought up.

A lot of them were released to institutions like that because they needed them to become education pods. And basically what that means is since those kids weren't able to go to school, they were having to go to other places like a daycare type scenario. When you can find those groups though. I would love to tell people specifically the ones in their areas that are needing help either physical manual labor help like they just literally need someone to come by and take out the trash because there's 10% of the people that are involved with it doing a hundred percent of the work just stopping by and saying, "Hey, what do you need? Do you need me to sweep the floor? "Or what do you need me to re-plug in some wires or reconfigure this computer? Update that one? 

You know, some people have that to do or they can just pay to participate in programs. And that's a really good thing to do. If you do have the power to do that, I encourage you to look at your own checkbook and say, can I pay to sponsor two other slots here so that I got two buddies that wouldn't have been able to come here. 

Art is the coolest part of that because it's accessible, no matter what socioeconomic status you're in, you can relate any, I would dare say any lesson that you're going to have in science, technology, engineering, or math, and you can use art to communicate what you're listening for essentially free, you can use trash to make art. And so if you're using trash to make a movable object, like some kind of automaton those things are, you don't have to have money to find string and a piece of paper and a needle. You can find that somewhere, but you do have to have money to buy an Arduino, you know, like it's not going to come to you for free, unless you can write a grant for it, unless you can go to the public library, all that stuff costs money too, though. So it's a great way to kind of get everybody involved and then that way it's not just some people. 

20:16 Chris: 

For sure. I mean, it sounds like too, we need to just be intentional, you know, so far is, are at home with our kids as well as industrial leaders out there that are listening to this, you know, be intentional about trying to support those types of programs because it's through that type of funding too, that sometimes they're really cool types of projects and opportunities come to fruition. 

20:35 Mary: 

Intent matters and intent is everything on that.

20:38 Chris: 

I love your passion. So, I mean, this has been a wonderful conversation. We do call it EECO Asks Why, we wrap up with the why. I'm going to tie together a couple of things with this why. Hopefully you'll tie it together for us rather, you know, speak to that industrial leader out there, you know, and we're trying to change their mindset to really support programs and focusing on that eight-year-old. I liked that, that focus you went to earlier, what would be the why behind S.T.E.A.M. to impact that eight-year-old in the future, what would you add? How would you answer that? 

21:07 Mary: 

A day is nothing. You know, five years is nothing in a minute worth of your struggle at work. To an eight-year-old, 10 years will pass for them, and then there'll be ready to work for you. To invest in the programs that are there less specifically. So if you are a micro specific industry and you want to donate money for this micro specific industry, I encourage you to think more broadly. You want people to think critically about physical things. Donate money to those things. And you'll see that kind of happen across the board.

All it takes us two kids out of 30 that are actually interested to go tell their other two nerd friends that are like, yo let's go do this. Let's go down this route. 

21:47 Chris: 

It is. I mean, and that is a number one headwind we hear about that workforce attrition and the skills gaps. So, you know, these types of initiatives and programs are important. You know, Mary, thank you so much for taking the time with us and for what you did share.

We'll make sure that for our listeners, in the show notes, links to everything that Mary pointed out to different types of programs that you could check out for yourself as well as a way just to connect with her. If you want to learn more from her directly, I know Mary you're so passionate about this topic. You love sharing with people. So that'd be on our show notes, but thank you so much for your time here. I just loved this conversation. 

22:21 Mary: 

Thank you very much. I've enjoyed this. 

22:25 Chris: 

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