Kate Schweikert smiles as she helps two young girls with a project during a hands-on activity.

Inspiring the Next Generation

WPI student facilitates grant from ExxonMobil for elementary STEM activities

March 13, 2019
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For Engineering Ambassador Kate Schweikert ’19, elementary STEM events like Engineers on the Go and Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day allow her to inspire the next generation of STEM students.

Not only was she there in the Rubin Campus Center last month leading some of the hands-on activities for third, fourth, and fifth graders, but she also single-handedly secured a grant from ExxonMobil to help make these programs possible.

Schweikert’s relationship with ExxonMobil began when she met alum Emily Cline ‘13, Section Supervisor of Basic Chemicals, through the Career Development Center’s Reverse Career Fair, an event where employers visited campus to discuss potential collaboration opportunities with representatives from various student clubs.

After a discussion about how Engineering Ambassadors enhanced her college experience and helped her to reach the lives of many young students during her two years of involvement, Cline shared ExxonMobil’s interest in giving back to the community while also promoting STEM. The two stayed in contact following the fair, and Schweikert drafted a grant proposal to partially fund Engineers on the Go and Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day that was ultimately approved.

“I was ecstatic to have the grant approved and build this relationship with such a well-known STEM company,” Schweikert says.

“I believe outreach programs are tremendous opportunities for young students to understand and become excited about science and engineering.” – Kate Schweikert '19

“While I can’t say I was surprised, I was definitely impressed,” director of sponsorship and events for the Office of Pre-Collegiate Outreach Programs Nicole Anterni says of Schweikert’s accomplishment. “She saw a great fit with ExxonMobil and the Engineers on the Go and Introduce a Girl to Engineering programs, and did something about it. I applaud her efforts and am proud of the work she’s doing.”

Coinciding with National Engineers Week, 140 elementary students visited WPI’s campus on February 18 and 19 for Engineers on the Go and Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, two interactive STEM programs led by WPI students and members of the Engineering Ambassadors, the Rocketry Club, and the biomedical engineering graduate program. In total, nearly 100 WPI students volunteered to help run the programs.

The programs, which gave middle-school students the chance to “perform” laparoscopic surgery before building rockets, water filtration systems, and wigglebots, were held free of charge. Both days were sponsored by WPI’s Pre-Collegiate Outreach programs and through a donation from ExxonMobil to WPI’s Engineering Ambassadors organization—a donation that Schweikert made happen.

“We’re actively changing the conversation...and showing them, through engaging presentations and hands-on activities, that anyone can be a scientist or engineer.” -Kate Schweikert

“I believe outreach programs are tremendous opportunities for young students to understand and become excited about science and engineering. I wanted to be part of an organization that would inspire the next generation,” says Schweikert, who cites her own participation in outreach programs through the Girl Scouts that helped her discover her own passion for STEM.

Anterni loves seeing the way students donate their time and talent to share STEM with the next generation, something she describes as impactful and exciting, and something Schweikert herself is honored to play a part in.

“Seeing a child’s face light up when he or she gets a motor to run or a line of code to compile is simply inspiring and reinforces why I love to do what I do,” Schweikert says. “Many of the young students we work with think they can’t be engineers because they aren’t very good at math, but we’re actively changing the conversation around this issue and showing them, through engaging presentations and hands-on activities, that anyone can be a scientist or engineer.”

- By Allison Racicot