Post Best Practices: Inspiring Students Through STEM

The SAME Boston Post connects with more than 4,400 students annually through its very successful Outreach Program, which dates back to 1999. The program offers a variety of different activities targeting students of all ages. David Heislein, Chairperson of the Post’s Outreach & Education Committee, offers thoughts on how others can emulate the Boston Post’s successes.

When did the Boston Post’s Outreach Program start?

Heislein: The Boston Post Outreach Program started back in 1999 as a volunteer program without any funding. The idea was to get more students interested in STEM careers that would lead them into college and we could connect them to our existing scholarship program. The program has grown and now has over 40 Post volunteers and a budget of $32,000 to reach out and directly connect with more than 4,400 students and teachers (K-12) each year.

What’s the best way to learn about new STEM activities?

Heislein: Boston Post members are connected to their communities and hear about programs in and outside of their schools that promote STEM subjects and careers. This gets us connected to the schools and the teachers. Some schools have their own career/STEM coordinators and some towns have jointly hired a coordinator to provide career services. In our case, this coordinator covers eight towns in lower-income communities. Often times these coordinators or teachers have had ideas to start programs, but needed the volunteers or funding to get started.

SAME Boston Post STEM Outreach

Many programs continue to grow into broader school and community support. Post members work with the teachers to determine what support they need to get started and then get engaged at the local level. Every activity that is supported financially by the Post must have a Post sponsor that is involved with the project. This year, we have after-school rocket clubs; engineering clubs; mock NASA Control Room launches, career fairs and presentations; town-wide science fairs; state-wide MathCounts competitions that lead to national competitions; solar car design and racing; and FIRST LEGO and Robotics teams.

There are also opportunities to team up with other professional organizations. Individually they may be limited, but together they can accomplish a much bigger program and influence more students.

For other Posts looking to make a similar impact in their communities, how best should they get started?

Heislein: Start simple by supporting a few existing programs that Post members learn about in their communities. Talk with local middle and high schools and the teachers to see what they have ongoing that you can support to get comfortable with the process. We find funding is very helpful, but the availability of volunteers to interact with the students and teachers is the greatest support needed. The teachers know how to teach—but don’t always know how to connect those subjects to projects the students see in their communities and the wide variety of potential careers that will keep them interested and focused as they progress up.

You may find it beneficial to start with one town and reach across several grades with multiple activities. Once our programs get started, the amount of funding to support each student continues to drop so that the Boston Post incurs about $8/student or teacher. This allows us to reach a large number of students each year. With established programs we can interact with the students several times during their school career up through high school and beyond.

We recently hosted an “8th Grade Women in STEM Day” and our opening speaker was a mechanical engineer from NASA that we had interacted with locally while she was in middle school and high school, helping expose her to STEM careers. This engineer once sat where our eighth graders are now and it meant a lot to the students to see what is possible.

David Heislein is Senior Project Manager, Amec Foster Wheeler, and Chairperson of the Boston Post Outreach & Education Committee;

[Interview first published in the July-August 2017 issue of The Military Engineer.]