Show-and-Tell: Promoting STEM Through Volunteerism and Contests

Why you should get involved with the SMART Competition

3 October 2012

Editor's Note: Michael R. Andrews is an IEEE senior member and the originator of the SMART Competition. He is managing partner of Andrews & Associates, a consulting firm in Phoenix. Vi Brown volunteers for the SMART competition as well as the Future City Arizona competiton, a national STEM program for middle school students, created by IEEE. Brown is president and CEO of Prophecy Consulting Group, also in Phoenix.

A well-known Hopi American Indian proverb says: “The one who tells the stories rules the world.” Story telling is a big part of Native American culture and is also a form of show-and-tell. As engineers, most of us have had the opportunity to engage in show and tell at various times during our careers, and for a select few, we may even do it every day.

Show-and-tell also can be used to enhance the understanding of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in youngsters. As an IEEE member, I am encouraging you to get involved and promote STEM careers via show-and-tell activities. We must learn to better market our profession, identify who we are, what we do, why we do it, and why we’d also like more folks to join us.


Mission critical is the need to replace retiring engineers in power production fields and fill the pipeline with new engineers who must do the many jobs that those retirees perform every day. Which brings me to the SMART Competition. It is a STEM education program for high school students aimed at helping them figure out how to build a sustainable future.

Through a series of unplanned events, I have had the opportunity to work very closely with high school students over the last three years. I’ve learned a few things about what works and what doesn’t in this journey of educating our future decision-makers and leaders. One of my greatest challenges has been to identify what motivates teens when they think that everything that adults do is “boring.” My biggest success has been through the use of activities and resources that stress the four Rs: real, relevant, relational, and rousing.

Now, before my “wanna-be” story tellers and STEM marketing peers with the elongated elevator speeches turn and run in the other direction, I’ll share how the SMART Competition does most of this for you:

  • Real–the SMART Competition challenges high school students to develop solutions to a real-world campus redesign project. 
  • Relevant–the solution includes elements of localized power generation, smart grid, power distribution and delivery, electric vehicles, and architecture.
  • Relational–not to be overlooked are the environment, community, livability, and sustainable technologies that are so important to our youth.
  • Rousing–the ultimate goal of the competition is to create interest in university studies and STEM-related careers by getting the student excited in a way that he or she acts on the education and learning experience.

The contest promotes intellectual investigation, academic achievement, career preparation, teamwork, and other 21st-century skills essential for in-demand occupations within high-growth industry sectors. The computer design and simulation skills will provide students with the capability to work for engineering and design firms while in school or immediately following graduation. How c-o-o-l is that?

Students will also gain and/or demonstrate a working knowledge of project management, smart grid, energy systems, transportation planning, building economics, LEED requirements, carbon footprint, and sustainable design.

Other attributes of the contest include the use of commercial software design tools and a global technical support infrastructure. Bentley Systems, a competition sponsor, has donated all CAD, GIS and AECOsim series energy analysis software tools along with their Microstation platform that will be used by students to conduct design and analysis requirements. 

The competition is open to all high school students who attend public, private, parochial, charter, and home-based schools. Students from non-school based or informal education programs are also welcome. There is no restriction on the student’s gender, race, socio-economic status, or academic performance level.

As an engineering professional, your participation is needed. If you have a story in you, your help is needed to engage our nation’s high school students for this year’s SMART Competition. Your involvement will enhance the breadth and impact of the program on student participants. Telling your story, and assisting high school students in telling their story, will promote STEM professionals as leaders, decision makers, and nation builders. Hearing a parent, teacher, or student say: “Thank you so much! I never knew what engineers or STEM professionals did until now,” is more important than ruling the world. It’s priceless.

There are many opportunities for volunteers to become involved in organizing and supporting the SMART Competition. Registration opens on 8 October.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the bloggers and do not represent official positions of The Institute or IEEE.

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