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 K-12 STEM Outreach COI maintains programs and partnerships to expose K-12 students to STEM opportunities, provides pathways to STEM degrees and STEM careers, and supports efforts to produce more STEM professionals for the nation.

Bricks & Clicks recently chatted with Liza Grudin, P.E., President, NovelEsolutions, Inc., and Chair of the K-12 STEM Outreach COI, on how the COI is collaborating with other organizations to develop STEM professionals, how it’s meeting challenges to engage today’s youth with STEM, and how her own STEM journey inspires her to give back to the next generation of leaders. 

Bricks & Clicks: Can you describe the mission of the K-12 STEM Outreach COI and the value it provides?

Grudin: The K-12 STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Outreach Community of Interest (COI) mission is to promote and support pathways to STEM degrees and STEM careers for K-12 students as part of the national strategic effort to produce more STEM professionals for the nation. Our primary objectives include:

  1. Categorizing different examples of how our Posts and individuals provide support;
  2. Identifying and providing guest speakers and webinars on relevant K-12 STEM topics;
  3. Serving as a clearinghouse of STEM information for K-12 outreach; and
  4. Providing a calendar of Post and external STEM events and points of contacts.

Bricks & Clicks: One of the main goals in the 2025 SAME Strategic Plan is enriching the STEM pipeline for the nation. How is the K-12 STEM Outreach COI helping the Society meet this goal?

Grudin: K-12 students need to be exposed to STEM activities, degrees, and careers as they move up the academic ladder. Our COI works with a network of Posts, individual members, sustaining members, service branches, and strategic partners to increase opportunities for STEM exposure for K-12 students. We promote the Society’s STEM programming at local, regional, and national events. Our overall goal is to provide ways for the average member of a Post to get involved and stay involved. The more members we have active in supporting STEM, the more of an impact we can make!

By spotlighting and leveraging our national partnerships on our website, within the STEM Corner of the TME magazine, and in our monthly webinars, we continue to support our joint mission of connecting with these local and national organizations focused on advancing STEM. Our strategic partnerships are only as good as we grow together and support each other.

The K-12 STEM Outreach COI further supports the 2025 SAME Strategic Plan by strengthening industry-government engagement and developing leaders for the profession. By focusing on our strategic partners and established STEM organizations, the COI provides a way for Posts and members to easily engage and participate in STEM support, as well as providing mentoring locally and virtually through our dedicated website and monthly webinars. Our monthly webinars are open to all members, and we encourage our strategic partners to join us both in presenting and in listening to our content for further engagement. For example, an announcement on our webinar might lead to our members supporting our strategic partner Technology Student Association with competition judges for their TEAMS competitions. These are coming up in February and March if anyone is interested!

Bricks & Clicks: How is the COI leading collaborative efforts through partnerships with other STEM-focused organizations?

Grudin: SAME is expanding on our strategic partner relationships with leaders in the STEM community through our interaction and support. We promote strategic partner events on our monthly webinars and within the SAME Calendar of Events. We host STEM-related strategic alliances and partners on our monthly webinars to inform our members about their missions and how we can support them in their STEM outreach efforts. Last year, as Vice-Chair for Strategic Alliances, I invited Mathcounts, DiscoverE, NCSSS, Ace Mentor, and SkillsUSA to join one of our monthly webinars. Each partner was given a 15 to 20 minute window to introduce their organization and describe how best SAME can support them in their mission. As a follow up, we created one-page profiles of each organization and posted them on our website to provide an in-depth look at each with opportunities for our members to learn how to engage! I look at these opportunities as low hanging fruit. We all lead busy lives, so it’s important to streamline how we utilize our time. If we can easily learn of ways to support our K-12 students, we can focus our efforts on the actual assistance and not culling through a variety of options.

As I worked my way up the ladder, I tried to pull all of the new female engineers up the rungs with me by mentoring and providing them support. My role as Chair of the K-12 STEM Outreach COI is an extension of those efforts and allows me to provide support to others who are mentoring and finding their own ways to pull our youth up that challenging ladder.

Bricks & Clicks: What challenges do you see, both now and in the future, to reaching students and developing them into STEM professionals?

Grudin: I see three challenges to supporting our youth through to STEM professional careers. The first challenge is garnering interest and maintaining it through the K-12 formative years. The second challenge is taking that initial seed and allowing it to blossom into a college or technical degree and career choice. The third challenge is fostering that transition into the workplace and keeping them in the STEM professional pipeline. Each of these challenges has its own set of issues, trials, and tribulations. SAME’s K-12 STEM Outreach COI focuses on the first of the challenges, but all of them are crucial to the STEM pipeline for our nation.

STEM careers can be very challenging. Each individual has to make their way through some difficult and technical classes, and then once they are hired there may be long hours and travelling. Today’s youth may have different values and push for that work/life balance. The A/E/C industry will need to recognize the needs of each generation and adapt if we want our nation to maintain a strong STEM presence worldwide. I have seen many engineers graduate and develop into strong, technically competent professionals only to leave the industry. It’s a sad outcome after many years of hard work!

Bricks & Clicks: What’s your favorite aspect of being the Chair of the COI?

Grudin: Our COI has made great progress since its founding in 2019. I’m excited to bring in new ideas and strengthen the framework built by our former Chair, Jeff Leonard, P.E., F.SAME. One new addition that I’m particularly excited about is adding a Liaison to the Diversion, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force to our leadership team.

My formative K-12 years were spent in the 1970s and 1980s when it was still common to hear “girls can’t do math.” When I started my career with one of the top A-E firms in the United States, I was one of two women in the office not filling an administrative role. My career was spent breaking into that “boy’s club” without a female mentor for support. As I worked my way up the ladder, I tried to pull all of the new female engineers up the rungs with me by mentoring and providing them support. My role as Chair of the K-12 STEM Outreach COI is an extension of those efforts and allows me to provide support to others who are mentoring and finding their own ways to pull our youth up that challenging ladder. For in life, where else can we find more value than in making a difference?

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!