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Building bridges for the future


EIT serving community and professions through volunteer work

Building possibilities for engineering and geoscience one Popsicle stick at a time — it’s one of the hopes behind an event of the Peace River branch of the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of BC (APEGBC).
“Going through school, and even in high school, I didn’t have a great understanding of what engineers did and their responsibilities,” says the Peace River branch’s Chad Carlstrom, who is an engineer-in-training (EIT) at Urban Systems in Fort St. John. “Often, I think there’s greater understanding in childhood of what a doctor or a lawyer might do, but with an engineer it’s a little foggy.”

Now, as part of the APEGBC’s Peace River branch, he wants to help give a clearer picture of the field to today’s youth. And so, every year, elementary and middle school children around the region are invited to create a half-metre high bridge out of 100 Popsicle sticks and a bottle of glue.

“There are two main goals,” Chad says. “One is to expose them to the career and the possibilities of engineering and science. And second, it’s just a fun and hands-on event where they can really explore science in their own world.”

The Peace River branch’s bridge-building competition, which engaged more than 1,500 students this year, is among the most successful events held in B.C. marking National Engineering and Geoscience Month in March, APEGBC president Michael Isaacson says in a letter of appreciation for Chad’s work. Michael says members like Chad, who volunteer at APEGBC’s 15 regional branches with the support of their employers, perform a range of work that serves the professions and the community.

This service is one of APEGBC’s core values, and upholding and retaining those values by future generations is what drives Chad’s active involvement in his branch, he says.

“There is a very strong code of ethics and principles and I feel that that in itself holds a lot of value.”

Chad is now serving as the Peace River branch’s chair, after being elected vice-chair by his peers for 2012/13. Since he joined APEGBC, which is the regulating and governing body of the professions in the province, Chad says he’s seen more EITs have become actively involved with the Peace River group.

The economically-robust region provides fertile ground for EITs to gain practical field experience, Chad says, and their engagement in the APEGBC Peace River branch expands their opportunity to learn from experienced, skilled colleagues, and it opens up a window to new ideas to fulfil the association’s overarching goals.

Chad says two new professional development and networking events for members took place last year, and he looks forward to the community outreach activities.

Autumn marks the ramp-up for the 2014 Popsicle stick bridge-building competition. Chad says the Peace River branch engages teachers first and then, in the new year, members will travel to classrooms to give a presentation on the contest, and engineering and geoscience. Children’s questions are fielded before they’re challenged with the bridge-building task. Entries are later judged for their strength and design ingenuity.

What the students come up with can be astonishing, Chad says. “The biggest surprise is how strong some of these bridges can be, and how at ages as young as 10 and under, children can construct bridges that can hold their weight.” Chad says. Bridges can hold more than 100 pounds —some even go up to 600 pounds.

Chad notes that strong teacher interest often correlates with strong student participation. “And often times, students who do get involved, stay involved for a few years,” he says. “They’re trying to achieve their personal best.”

Connections have also been made where participants in this competition have gone on to become engineers.

Looking ahead, Chad plans to remain active with the APEGBC and he looks forward during his year as the Peace River branch’s chair to growing member and community engagement in some creative ways

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