The Engineering Blitz – ASCE Austin Branch’s Annual STEM Event Recap

by Tyler Dube PE – ASCE Austin Branch President Elect

February 2023

The ASCE Austin Branch recently held it’s 4th annual “Engineering Blitz” – a fast-paced STEM activity run by 35 volunteer engineers over a 2-day period with the entire 6th grade class at Kealing Middle School. Kealing offers advanced academic opportunities for students in grades 6-8 through it’s Magnet Program.

According to the Austin Independent School District, the Magnet Program presents students “a rigorous and relevant curriculum of core classes at a more advanced level than the Pre-AP honors classes offered at other middle schools and elective classes that extend and unify core class concepts and skills. Evidence of Kealing Magnet Program students’ high achievement is documented by the highest test results in the school district and by success in academic competitions.” 

Any student living within the District’s service boundaries may apply and attend.

Students attempting the tallest tower constructed from plastic cups and popsicle sticks

The ASCE Austin Branch has partnered with Kealing since 2018 for this annual event to expose Austin’s brightest youngsters to engineering.  Initially held in person in 2018 and 2019, the event was canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19. The branch retooled the Blitz as a virtual event in 2021 and returned live in 2022.  Although many of the 6th-grade students already have some understanding of what an engineer does, for most, the Engineering Blitz is the first time they’ve interacted with one.  Volunteers ranged from EITs to PEs to retired engineers from the ASCE Austin Branch. They were assigned in pairs to visit 19 6th-grade classrooms during their homeroom advisory class period, reaching a total of 489 students. 

This year’s Blitz was a feat of engineering in itself – volunteers had just 22 minutes to introduce themselves, talk about what they do, generate some discussion about engineering in general, dive deeper into civil engineering and it’s many specialties, give some real world examples of civil engineering the students experience in their everyday lives, organize the class into small groups to compete against each other in a STEM-based activity, administer the activity, collect team results and identify the winning team.  All before the bell for 2nd period class!  Each participating student received a pencil branded “ASCE | Future Engineer.”  The pencils appear black when not in use, but when held, the heat from the user’s hand transforms the pencil’s exterior to Kealing’s crimson & cream school colors.  The winning teams in each class were awarded crimson sun glasses with the same ASCE | Future Engineer branding.

6th graders carefully load a paper bridge with heavy hardware

Another challenge to putting on the Engineering Blitz is the coordination of the many volunteers needed to make it successful, each taking time out of their workday to visit with Austin’s youth.  Many of the volunteers from ASCE have come back to the Blitz each year because it is fun and exciting, and they consider it an investment in tomorrow’s engineers.  First-time volunteers were enticed by the prospect of free coffee and pastries and positive testimonials from past volunteers.  Careful planning included three months of Branch luncheon announcements, targeted e-blasts, phone calls, and peer pressure to join the volunteer ranks to produce this year’s Blitz crews for November 30 and December 1, 2022.  Organizers included the Branch’s K-12 Outreach Committee Chair Nick Richman (HNTB) and President-Elect Tyler Dube (Pape-Dawson Engineers), a Kealing alum from the class of 2001.  Volunteers came from some of the following Austin-area firms:

  • Aguirre & Fields
  • Ardurra
  • Burns & McDonnell
  • City of Austin
  • Freese and Nichols
  • Garver
  • GBA Team
  • HNTB
  • K Friese + Associates
  • Miller Gray
  • Pape-Dawson Engineers, Inc.
  • Plummer
  • RS&H, Inc.
  • Toole Design Group, LLC
ASCE Austin Branch Volunteers

Special thanks to all that participated in the ASCE Austin Branch’s Engineering Blitz and to Nathalie Tenorio-Ordonez, Kealing’s volunteer coordinator.