Shaping the Next Generation of Structural Engineers

On Thursday, May 11, I had the opportunity to speak to the 3rd grade students at Dresden Elementary School for Career Day.

Explaining structural engineering can be a challenge when my friends and family ask me about my career, so the task of explaining my career to a group of elementary schools students was initially quite terrifying. But I got to work, did my research, and prepared my 15 minute pitch on the exciting career of structural engineering.

I came up with a number of different ways to relate structural engineering to the kids and showed them several pictures of my favorite structures throughout the world. I used the story of the three little pigs to explain the differences in strengths of various materials. When discussing structural drawings, I talked about how it’s similar to when you’re building with Legos and need to see close up pictures of how the different parts and pieces fit together.

I brought in several items for the “show and tell” portion of my presentation: my hard hat and safety vest, a concrete cylinder, a steel reinforcing bar, a shear stud connector, and a set of drawings from one of my current projects. When I was showing a typical structural plan, one of the teachers asked the students what concepts they had recently learned of which the drawings reminded them. “Area and perimeter!” answered one student. They were surprised to learn that I calculate areas every single day.

I couldn’t have asked for a better group of students. They listened intently and seemed so excited to hear what I had to say. When I finished my presentation, the questions started rolling. “How long does it take to building a skyscraper?”, “What was your favorite subject in school?”, “Are you the boss?”, and “Did you build my school?” were some of my favorites. Not a single student was shy about asking their questions, which was refreshing to see. One student asked if I had always known I wanted to be a structural engineer. I replied honestly, telling the students that I had never even thought about being an engineer until I was in high school, but also that I was happy to find a career that combined both my favorite subjects and interests. It was fulfilling to be able to teach the students about my career in case they might have an interest in pursuing it.

All in all, I would say it was a successful first Career Day. I hope I was able to inspire the students – I know they inspired me.

Author: Mary Shinners, EIT

Mary joined PES in 2015 after graduating from Georgia Tech. She’s now busy assisting project teams with structural analysis and design, preparing structural models using several types of structural software, performing surveys and assessments of existing structures, and preparing construction documents for various projects. She’s excited to continue learning what is required for successful project outcomes and looks forward to garnering more experience with different types of projects as her career progresses. Mary can be reached at