Vidya Renganathan spent seven years in graduate school learning how to perform engineering research.
“I remembered what my math teacher had said when I got a question wrong,” recalled the Chevron Canada facilities engineer-in-training. “He said, ‘You learned how not to solve the problem.’
“The experiences of trial and failure show that often you’re not going to find the answer on the first try,” explained Renganathan, who has a PhD in geomatics engineering. “You focus on learning and improving from those experiences and learn not to give up. They are stepping stones to success.”
Lucas Makowsky and Vidya Renganathan toy with a model catapult. The engineers-in-training were two of six Chevron employees who volunteered to mentor Calgary and area students through a partnership with TELUS Spark, the city’s science centre.
Renganathan was one of six Chevron Canada employees who volunteered at TELUS Spark’s Prototype Project, which saw junior and senior high school students from three schools in Calgary and Airdrie conceive, design, build, and refine interactive science-centre exhibits.
TELUS Spark is Calgary’s science centre and offers exhibits for museum-goers to interact with. Chevron Canada has partnered with the science centre in a variety of programs, including Chevron Open Minds, since the 1980s.
In the Prototype Project, students were asked to design and build exhibits with the needs of science centre visitors in mind. Through the process, organizers hoped students would learn about science, technology, engineering, arts and math.
To inspire students, the science centre turned to members of industry, including Chevron Canada, for engineers to mentor students. Six Chevron employees volunteered 54 hours in support of the project.
“We live in a world that’s run by science and technology, and we think it’s important to develop students’ ability to do science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics,” said TELUS Spark’s Education Special Projects Coordinator Jackie Oriold. “We want to foster a community of collaboration, creativity, curiosity, courage and commitment.”
Helping Find Solutions
By introducing students to professional engineers from respected organizations such as Chevron, Oriold said TELUS Spark could show them they could inspire them to pursue their dreams and learn to love an occupation. All they needed was a little guidance from professionals through the project, which began in 2013.
After weeks of working with mentors, 340 students from AE Cross School in Calgary and Bert Church and George McDougall schools in Airdrie showcased 109 exhibits at the Celebration of Learning event at TELUS Spark on May 5. About 1,000 people (parents, teachers, students, mentors and their families) attended the event.
Renganathan had spent nine hours working with three classes of Grade 8 students from AE Cross. “One group was building a race track with mechanical road blocks and asked what materials they could use to build it,” she said. “Together we discussed various materials and methods. I wasn’t supposed to solve their problems but help them through the problem-solving process.”
Engaging with Students
Chevron Petroleum Engineer-in-Training Lucas Makowsky, a former Canadian Olympic speedskater who won a gold medal in Vancouver in 2010, provided guidance to students at George McDougall High School in Airdrie, north of Calgary.
“This was a great opportunity to engage with students in an engineering capacity,” said Makowsky.
Spending more than just one day with students allowed Makowsky to see them progress a project from an idea to execution. Along the way, he said, he and other mentors had a chance to help the Grade 11 pupils develop critical-thinking skills.
“The reward in all of this is simply seeing the students get excited about their projects and seeing them take ownership of the work they put into them,” Makowsky said.