By Brooks Mitchell, Education Coordinator
The best and the brightest of the library world came together with the best and the brightest of the civil engineering world in Denver, Colorado for the Project BUILD Workshop this April. I had the privilege of helping organize this event and, as is usual when working with librarians, feel that I learned just as many lessons as the workshop attendees! Professional stereotypes were shattered, laughs were shared, and literal and metaphoric bridges were built during this intensive 2-day workshop.
Project BUILD aims to partner library staff with volunteers from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) to help bring engineering-rich learning experiences to the underserved and underrepresented. This is done through several different avenues, including community dialogue events, Ready-Set-Create Learning experiences, engineering programs, and circulating STEM kits. There are six Project BUILD partnership locations around the country, including Anchorage (AK), Broward Co. (FL), Cleveland (OH), Greeley (CO), Kanawha Co. (WV), and Philadelphia (PA).
It’s been a ton of fun finding (and testing!) activities for the Project BUILD programs. These programs are split into four themes:
- Span-tastic Bridges: From Here to There
- Designed to Survive: Engineering for Disasters
- Clean Up Our World
- Power from Nature
For each of these themes, the libraries and engineers have a menu of different activity ideas to choose from, based on local environmental and engineering issues that their communities face. For example, for the Designed to Survive theme, a library in Alaska may choose an earthquake-related activity, while a library in South Florida may choose an activity about storm surge. In developing these programming menus, it was important to us that the libraries and engineers be able to work together to identify local problems that patrons can connect with.
While some of our workshop spent time focusing on nitty-gritty project details – it can be hard to spin something mundane like “getting photo releases” into a fun workshop activity! – there was also plenty of time to get our hands on the activity materials. Everyone had a blast making Windy City Towers, dirtying (and then cleaning up!) the water, and using conductive and insulating dough to make their own city.
One of my personal workshop highlights came while training the library and engineer staff on our Span-tastic Bridges activity. Our SSI cohort, Anne Holland, came to the workshop Saturday morning to lead a session on effectively facilitating community dialogues. Before her wonderful session, we asked her to come make some Keva Plank bridges with us. Due to the lack of caffeine in her system, Anne responded: “Oh no, I’m not an engineer – I can’t do that!” After talking with our new engineering buddies, Kazi, Tor, and Yulet, and learning a little bit about bridge structures, Anne began to open up. Before I knew it, we were high-fiving, laughing, and screaming in agony together as our bridge ultimately collapsed. I truly think that the engineers’ open, engaging attitude (and maybe a few sips of coffee) turned Anne’s experience from “that scares me” to “engineering is awesome!”
I can’t wait to see what kind of programs our all-star library and engineer partners facilitate as Project BUILD kicks off. They certainly built relationships together at our workshop and will absolutely be building strong relationships in their community over the next two years!