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STEM Training Sparks Curiosity for Kansas City Sixth Grader

Sixth-grade student Maxwell Robinson wasn’t sure what to expect when his instructor gave Maxwell and his fellow St. Paul’s Episcopal Day School students a pile of toothpicks and marshmallows. The task, they discovered, was to build a strong, sturdy bridge with nothing but those two items.

Maxwell and his class were part of an ongoing STEM mentoring program that allows students to meet in teams of five and work on activities with electricity, water and structural engineering. The training program is offered by global engineering, construction and consulting company Black & Veatch, in tandem with Kansas City PBS.

Student Maxwell Robinson learns how to build a structurally sound “bridge” using toothpicks and marshmallows as part of the STEM Mentoring Program.

During the training, each subject area is addressed with an overview from an engineer, including a hands-on activity. In addition to bridge building, students learn activities like how to filter dirty water and how to create a complete electrical circuit with a motor, fan, light and switch.

Maxwell’s eyes light up when he talks about what participating in this and other engineering tasks have taught him.

“It was really cool. It really expanded my knowledge of science. Before, I didn’t know all of these important things,” he says.

Since its inception, the program has delivered STEM training to nearly 6,000 students at almost 100 Kansas City-area schools. It teaches innovative thinking and problem-solving skills, and it is designed to expose students to STEM concepts and to see it as a possible future career choice.

Among its many community education efforts, Kansas City PBS partners in career-focused programs including the Black & Veatch STEM Mentoring Program that is part of the critical infrastructure leader’s “growSTEM initiative. Enterprise partnered with Kansas City PBS on the recent renovation and expansion of its headquarters, which included $12 million in funding with New Markets Tax Credits (NMTC) made available through an Enterprise Financial CDE tax credit allocation. NMTC is a U.S. Treasury Department program that attracts private capital to disadvantaged communities.

Kansas City PBS, 2023 Community Impact Report

“Helping organizations that are doing important work thrive, like Kansas City PBS, is one of the most satisfying aspects of facilitating NMTC funding,” says Rachel O’Grady, Assistant Vice President with Enterprise Financial CDE. “They play an important role in our community, and they are a vital part of the revitalization of a distressed part of our city.”

Kansas City PBS, 2023 Community Impact Report