11 February 2019

Telling the Stories of STEM

Posted by Shane Hanlon

 The RePicture.com site tells the stories of STEM projects to increase in STEM professions. Credit: RePicture Engineering

By Lynn Mayo

I was recently at a social gathering talking to someone I’ll call Jane, whose son is an honors student in high school.  She said she was very proud of her son because he wanted a career in which he could help people. He was considering joining the Peace Corp to work in developing counties. He told Jane teaching is a great profession, but he wanted to do something other than teach English in developing countries. He thought he might study medicine instead. I took a chance and asked Jane, has your son considered engineering? She gave me a strange look as if I hadn’t heard her say her son wanted a career that helps people, and she quickly changed the subject.  As a result, I missed the opportunity to tell Jane about Mike Paddock.

Mike is a civil engineer with Engineers Without Borders.  He was recently in Ethiopia.  Ethiopia has been in a drought since 2015.  Water is sca re, livestock is dying, and many people are malnourished. Several communities in Ethiopia have wells that are no longer working.  The locals think it’s because the groundwater has gone dry.  However, in several cases, the problem is that the well pump is broken. Mike visited Ethiopia to repair the well pumps.  He also trained the locals so they can maintain and repair the well pumps themselves. Thanks to Mike’s work, over 100,000 people now have access to clean water. They can use this water to feed their livestock and themselves.  It’s estimated that up to 80 percent of illnesses in the developing world are due to inadequate water and sanitation.  So, Mike’s work may also help reduce the spread of disease to these 100,000 people. If Jane’s son was told the story of Mike Paddock, I wonder if he would consider engineering as a profession in which he could help people.

Engineers have been helping repair well pumps in Ethiopia, similar to this well pump completed by the U.S. Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 7. Credit: U.S. Army photo by Specialist Sheri Carter.

This unfamiliarity with science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) is one of the reasons I co-founded RePicture Engineering, a public benefit corporation.  We have developed a site called RePicture.com that is telling the stories of STEM.  The stories include all types of STEM professionals, such as AGU member Carolyn Voter, who is doing research on lowering the impact of urban development on stormwater.  The RePicture site emphases how this research helps communities protect their streams and drinking water supplies.

RePicture.com is available to anyone for free. The first lesson plan was recently piloted in a California high school to introduce students to STEM careers.

We’re asking STEM professionals to add their stories to RePicture.com so you can inspire the next generation and gain recognition for your work.  With your help, Jane’s son may soon consider STEM as a helping profession, like teaching and medicine.