By Jeannine Finton, Senior Manager of Pre-College Outreach, American Society of Civil Engineers

This year’s Summer Reading Theme is “Build a Better World.” This is a great opportunity to introduce people to engineering, especially civil engineering.

Civil engineers design, build, and maintain all the things that connect us and let us live in safe, healthy communities such as our roads and bridges, drinking water and energy systems, sea ports and airports, and the infrastructure for a cleaner environment, to name just a few.

Think of a civil engineer when you:

  • Turn on your tap to take a shower or drink clean water
  • Flick on your lights and open your refrigerator
  • Drive to work on roads and bridges through synchronized traffic lights
  • Take mass transit or take a flight for a vacation
  • Toss your empty coffee cup in the recycling bin

Doing engineering activities in a library is pretty simple. Many activities can be done with a sheet of paper—build a bridge that can hold 100 pennies or a paper airplane that can fly the farthest.

You’ve probably done engineering before and never realized it because it might have been presented as science. However, there are a few differences between a science activity and an engineering activity. In a science experiment people are demonstrating a fact of the natural world and should all get the same outcome. In an engineering activity the solutions can be all over the place. LEGO building days are a great example of an engineering activity.

Engineering activities have:

  • A problem to solve, such as build a bridge
  • Constraints such as time or equipment allowed. Build a bridge out of a single sheet of paper that can hold 100 pennies (or more)
  • Open-ended solution—no two bridges will look exactly the same, although they may look similar

Where can you find engineering activities?

STEM Activity Clearinghouse, under the “Build a Better World” collection—find high quality, vetted STEM activities that are appropriate for library use. Search by audience, content level, and difficulty, and other criteria.

DiscoverE—this organization is a coalition of over 100 engineering societies and firms. They have many activities, videos and other support materials.

Dream Big: Engineering Our World—this is a new giant screen film and engineering education resource. The website contains over 50 engineering activities, webisodes on a variety of topics and more.

American Society of Civil Engineers—a website with information about the built environment as well as links to activities related to dams, bridges, and transportation.

Where can you find engineers?

Many engineering societies encourage their members to help local organizations such as libraries. Civil engineers are found in communities throughout the USA wherever there are municipal roads or water supplies. You can find engineers in your community by