SAME’s Communities of Interest provide opportunities for members to become involved nationally with other professionals focused on a particular technical field or demographic within the A/E/C industry. The College Outreach COI serves as the lead collaborator between SAME and academia, supports engagement with SAME student members, and develops tomorrow’s STEM leaders at the collegiate level.

Bricks & Clicks recently chatted with Anne MacMillan, Bluestone Environmental Group, and Chair of the College Outreach COI, on how the COI is helping develop future STEM professionals, how the Virtual Student Chapter helped student members stay engaged through the pandemic, and the plans for future Undergraduate Innovations Challenges.

Bricks & Clicks: How is the College Outreach COI meeting its mission of leading collaborative efforts between SAME and academia to address national security infrastructure-related challenges and develop future STEM professionals at the collegiate level?

MacMillan: The two main ways the College Outreach COI is leading collaborative efforts between SAME and academia are the Undergraduate Innovations Challenge and education opportunities such as our Forum on Student Members and Student Chapters, which was just held in August. Additionally, we collaborate with strategic partners on opportunities relating to academics, student job searches, and so on.

Bricks & Clicks: The COI successfully wrapped up its inaugural Undergraduate Innovations Challenge this summer. Can you share how this competition supported the COI mission and any plans for future competitions?

MacMillan: It was such an amazing first year of competition! The breadth of the projects showed us just how wide-ranging the members of SAME are and how many ways you can be involved.

SAME student members represent the next generation of innovative STEM thinkers ready to take on society’s biggest challenges. For this reason, the COI started the Undergraduate Innovations Challenge to identify and recognize their great ideas. The competition was developed to utilize design projects students developed as part of their degree curriculums. The challenge encourages teams, working under the guidance of a faculty advisor and a student chapter mentor, to develop their technical capacity for problem solving. Their projects help introduce student members to industry-related work and helps them see themselves as emerging leaders in the STEM workforce.

A major part of project design is communicating the project’s purpose and utility, and describing the design process to others, including colleagues, superiors, outside clients, or the general public. Effective communication is key to expressing the importance of your work to relevant stakeholders. This competition emphasizes that importance. With a focus on the utility of the design and the ability to bring it to market, the competition highlights the innovative thinking of SAME student members. All submitted projects are posted on the SAME webpage, as well as the top three winners selected to share a $500 prize and asked to present to SAME industry members.

As for the next one, we just published the schedule for this upcoming year’s competition. The first submissions are due February 2022. You can find more information here.

Bricks & Clicks: What are some of the ways the COI is contributing to the goals laid out in the 2025 SAME Strategic Plan?

MacMillan: The COI contributes to Goal 3 (Develop Leaders for the Profession) and Goal 4 (Enrich the STEM Pipeline for the Nation) of the 2025 SAME Strategic Plan through its support of student member, student chapter, faculty advisor, and student chapter mentor communities and by providing a space to connect and share. For students not attending one of the institutions hosting physical student chapters, our Virtual Student Chapter allows them to engage in professional development opportunities. Additionally, the COI conducts an Annual Forum on Student Chapters and Student Members, our Undergraduate Innovations Challenge, and various student member focused events at National events.

Bricks & Clicks: Connecting with and engaging SAME student members, such as through the Virtual Student Chapter, is a key focus for the COI. What are some ways the COI is accomplishing this?

SAME student members represent the next generation of innovative STEM thinkers ready to take on society’s biggest challenges.

MacMillan: The COI connects with student members in several ways, as we talked about earlier: the Virtual Student Chapter, COI meetings, the Student Member and Chapter Forum, newsletters, and other digital communications.

Our primary way of connecting with and engaging student members in the Virtual Student Chapter is through webinars. We’ve offered both educational webinars, such as the Kiewit series on building your portfolio of professional skills, as well as informative webinars, such as Tony Davit’s presentation on his own professional journey. The Virtual Student Chapter became even more crucial during the pandemic, when many student chapters couldn’t meet in person. The Virtual Student Chapter gave them an opportunity to still meet and connect. All the webinars are recorded too, which allows student members to view webinars they missed or use them again at student chapter meetings. Check them out here.

This year, we are working to add student leadership to the Virtual Student Chapter. As the chapter continues to grow, it is important that it serves the needs of the student member community. Having student leadership is key to this growth.

Bricks & Clicks: What kind of challenges do you face in reaching and engaging student members?

MacMillan: Time is always a challenge. As a global society, what works for one time zone doesn’t always work for another. We are always trying to find the best times to reach the most student members we can.

Student members also have a mountain of activities and requirements on their plates. We want to make sure if they are giving us their valuable time, it is a worthwhile investment.

Lastly, we are a volunteer-based organization. We have so many great ideas to continue to expand student engagement, but we need more volunteers! If you are interested in College Outreach, come join us and volunteer!

Bricks & Clicks: What would you say is your favorite part of being the Chair of the COI?

MacMillan: All the people that I have had the privilege of meeting as part of the COI. Everyone has such interesting stories. From the students who are creating amazing competition projects to mentors and members of the COI who have such vast experience and advice. It’s been an honor to serve as the chair of this committee.

As SAME moves ahead in its second century, the challenges facing national security and our A/E/C community continue to grow in complexity and urgency. Nations and non-state actors are striving to change the balance of world order. Technology and civilization are accelerating rapidly. Disruption is constant. Extreme weather and climate change pose dynamic and dangerous risks to mission-critical assets. Material scarcity, capacity shortfalls, artificial intelligence and machine learning, competing access to finite resources, even global pandemics, are impacting our ability to plan, design, build, and maintain the infrastructure needed to sustain a secure nation underpinned by a resilient economy. In order to address these and other future challenges, our nation must have a steady pipeline of quality and dedicated leaders and engineers.

The SAME Foundation has established a target to raise $1,000,000 during the Second Century Campaign, and we need your help to meet our goal! No matter the amount you choose, you can feel good knowing that you are doing more than just talking about the issues facing the engineering community’s future…you are taking action. Help make a lasting difference. Become a Second Century Campaign Supporter today!