Jay Stenzel says his grant proposal to teach civil engineering to high school kids was sort of “thrown together at the last minute.”

Even so, that proposal netted the South Central College instructor more than $15,000. And he’ll probably begin using the money this month already as he works with students from the Maple River School District.

The grant, announced Tuesday, was part of the most recent round of Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation grants. Minnesota State University also received a grant. Their $20,000 grant will support a new research lab for renewable energy to evaluate production, storage, transfer, use and emissions.

SCC’s grant will fund testing systems, materials and prizes for their new Civil Engineering Technology camps. These camps for high schoolers have the larger aim of increasing the number of women and minorities who pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

Stenzel said the grant will help them help youth.

“It’s very important to get the word out about civil engineering,” Stenzel said. “This is going to be a method of bringing engineering into the classroom, and we’re going to do it through an engineering competition.”

Stenzel says his plan for the Maple River students is to have a three-part competition that is two parts engineering, one part public speaking.

First, students will use materials to build a bridge. A piece of equipment called a stress tester will determine how well they’ve done by measuring the bridge’s strength.

The second part of the competition forces students to try and use the most inexpensive means necessary to build a bridge capable of supporting a specific weight.

And finally, the students will have to make a presentation of their work to their classmates.

Stenzel said he’s interested in reaching more young women with science- and math-heavy programs such as civil engineering. And that’s what prompted the arrangement with Maple River.

One of the district’s guidance counselors, Stenzel said, feels the same way, so Stenzel decided to begin the program in Maple River.

If all goes well, he said, it may expand.

“I would like it to grow, yes,” he said. “But we gotta start somewhere.”

Tim Penny, president and CEO of the Initiative Foundation, said his organization is committed to the region’s emerging work force with career exploration tied to experiential learning as a focus area for its incentive grants.

“We are pleased to support these innovative efforts to advance technical skills among our region’s young workers and further renewable energy strategies in southern Minnesota,” Penny said in a SMIF-issued statement. “It is exactly this type of innovation and partnership that help people contribute and leverage their assets to the fullest extent.”

The next round of incentive grants will be announced in February. The deadline for applying for those grants will be in March. For details, visit smifoundation.org or call (507) 455-3215.

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