A tiny house that STEMs from big hearts

June 09, 2015

tiny house.jpg

CNS employees are teaching Girl Scouts valuable STEM skills while leading an Amarillo-wide effort to transform an old camper into a tiny home for a woman in need.

Don’t expect a lot of girl talk from Savannah Gates, Rebecca Heinen, Brandy Ramirez and Courtney Waddell. When they get together, they “do.” Naturally, when the Pantex engineers had the opportunity to share what a STEM education is all about with a group of Girl Scouts, they didn’t pull out the trusty (translate “dull”) PowerPoint presentation. They put tools in the girls’ hands and showed them instead.

“I didn’t get into engineering for the sake of engineering,” said Gates, a mechanical engineer who works in Production and Manufacturing Engineering. “I got an engineering degree because it’s the love of what I could do with it in my personal life. I am passionate about using my skills to make my community a better place to live.”

The four Pantexans have worked with local Girl Scout troops on several community improvement projects and engineering‑related activities. To encourage the girls to consider careers in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, the engineers involved them in building a “tiny house” to give them hands‑on STEM skills.

Tiny houses are part of a growing trend to lead a simpler, lower‑cost lifestyle, one that many times involves having a reduced ecological impact. Tiny houses are just that — small, usually less than 300 square feet. Some are off‑the‑grid, generating their own electricity, and capture rainwater. They can be portable or attached to slabs. Tiny homes are less expensive to build than larger‑scale homes and are easier and cheaper to maintain.

Gates, Heinen, Ramirez, Waddell and the Girl Scouts are working alongside Pantex carpenters, electricians and welders, who’ve donated their services, as well as city planning officials, community volunteers and businesses, which have contributed supplies, to transform an old camper into a tiny home for a woman in need.

STEM need
Only 16 percent of American high school seniors are proficient in math and interested in a STEM career. Even among those who do go on to pursue a college major in STEM fields, only about half choose to work in a related career. The U.S. is falling behind internationally, ranking 25th in math and 17th in science among industrialized nations.
Source: U.S. Department of Education

“After hearing about the girls’ efforts from a local news story, our fellow Pantexans began to volunteer their supplies, time and skills to aid in this great cause. This is really an Amarillo‑wide effort spearheaded by Pantex,” said Heinen, who has a degree in industrial engineering. “The house, which is part of a larger community of planned tiny homes, will be for a single mom or woman coming from a poisonous environment, perhaps drug addiction or abuse.”

The Pantexans are teaching the Girl Scouts practical STEM skills through trade work. “We’re breaking away from the traditional STEM classroom approach,” Gates said. “The girls are installing doors and new windows. We’ve put tools in their hands and are showing them how to use them. They’re loving it.”

Imparting their engineering skills isn’t the only motivator for the engineers; they also want to mentor the girls on the importance of giving back to their communities.

“I am always excited to help others,” said Ramirez, a facility engineer in System Engineering. “This project presented a great opportunity to help others as well as teach young girls about engineering and construction. Having a part in building strong, smart, caring young women is very rewarding.”

Waddell, a mechanical engineer, agrees. “The best part of working with my Pantex colleagues is seeing how much love there is for our community,” she said. “The group is constantly looking for ways to give back, and this project is a perfect example of that.”