CADD Manager Journal had the opportunity recently to interact with Greg Bentley, CEO of Bentley Systems about the involvement of Bentley and himself with educational environment and STEM. I am always encouraged when firms embrace educational efforts for tomorrows leaders.
CADDManager Journal: For the unfamiliar, what exactly is STEM and why is it so vital?
Greg Bentley: The Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) movement is a collaborative activity by business, industry, government, and nonprofits to promote STEM-oriented curricula and outreach programs in today’s classrooms. A 21st century workforce requires the knowledge and skills associated with these more demanding areas of study to fill the growing demand for more technologists and engineers of all disciplines, including the many that comprise the infrastructure professions. This technically trained talent is the key to driving long-term economic growth by, for example, improving and sustaining the infrastructure needed to support the housing, transportation, water distribution, communications, and many other service requirements of modern societies.
STEM-based curricula also serve the individual career development requirements of our young people. It affords them better and more fulfilling occupations that provide a higher degree of job security, particularly during economic downturns.
CMJ: How has the STEM focus impacted our educational progress in these areas?
GB: Schools in the United States face a crucial challenge in improving STEM education, especially for K-12 students. There is growing awareness that STEM learning is important not just for our country’s ongoing economic strength, but also for global health and safety, as well as the ongoing sustainability of our environment. Improving the STEM focus, especially in the K-12 student, builds a stronger correlation to success in post-secondary engineering endeavors. In a statement issued by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on the release early this year of the National Assessment of Education Progress  report he warned that our nation’s students aren’t learning at a rate that will maintain America’s role as an international leader in the sciences. He said that, based on this “science report card,” the next generation will not be ready to be world-class inventors, doctors, and engineers.
Developing STEM literacy requires lasting commitment from government, educators, business leaders, and, ultimately, each of us. We are finding new ways for private, public and nonprofit agencies to better work together to develop programs and initiatives that engage, inspire, and educate young people in math and science. And with many initiatives under way, researchers are now able to study successful STEM-focused schools, as well as effective STEM education practices. Therefore, going forward we can promote best-practices and proven solutions to help create the most effective STEM education possible.
CMJ: What has Bentley done to assist in the STEM efforts?
GB: Bentley’s mission is to provide innovative software and services for the enterprises and professionals who design, build, and operate the world’s infrastructure—sustaining the global economy and environment for improved quality of life. Crucial to this mission is a commitment to helping develop, and, indeed, sustain the talented and multidisciplinary workforce of professionals charged with sustaining our world’s infrastructure. This can only be accomplished by attracting more students to the study of math and sciences, leading to greater interest in pursuing careers in engineering and technology. A number of our initiatives at Bentley are dedicated to this worthy endeavor.
The Bentley colleague STEM grant program enables each Bentley colleague to “earmark” grants – one per calendar year – to help support STEM programs in schools, nonprofit organizations, and nongovernmental organizations. Since the program’s inception in 2008, more than 1,500 STEM grants, each totaling $250 (or other country equivalent), have been directed by Bentley colleagues to enhance students’ involvement in STEM-related learning activities. These awards have gone to providing lab and science equipment, supporting robotics competitions, enabling students to attend science camp, and much more.
We also encourage students to explore the infrastructure professions through a Bentley Systems’-hosted program called Techies Day. Students from surrounding high schools visit our corporate headquarters in Exton, Pa., where they learn about potential areas of study and career opportunities. This year was our third annual Techies Day, and students were able to learn about 3D computing in engineering, what it takes to support a company’s IT needs, as well as what’s involved in designing, creating, and supporting software for infrastructure professionals.
In addition, Bentley is a long-time sponsor of the National Engineers Week Future City Competition, an annual engineering outreach program in which sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders from across the U.S. work in teams to design cities of the future. Each school team is supported by a teacher and an engineer-mentor. Through this problem-solving process students are able to experience firsthand what it is that engineers do: research, analysis, innovative thinking, and team collaboration.
The students create their vision of the city of tomorrow first on computers and then as large 3D models. They then write detailed narratives outlining the key features of their respective city, and a research essay on the real-world engineering challenge it addresses. By offering an opportunity to explore real issues, programs like this actively engage students, increasing their interest in science and math, and introducing them to the field of engineering. Helping young people discover what the field has to offer is a critical step in ensuring that the engineering professions continue to thrive in the years ahead.
CMJ: Please tell me a little history about National Engineers Week Future City Competition and how Bentley got involved.
GB: The Future City Competition is now in its 20th year, and Bentley has been involved since 1995, with the first Philadelphia regional competition. Since then, Bentley has continued and expanded its support of this great program, both at the regional and national levels, financially, and through the volunteer efforts of our colleagues who serve as mentors and judges for the competition. It also is our privilege to host the National Finals, and to sponsor the National Finals Grand Prize winners with a trip to the U.S. Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala.
CMJ: How can a student or family get more involved with STEM or the competition?
GB: Anyone can become involved with STEM by contacting his or her school for in-school programs and outreach activities. They can get involved with the Future City Competition by visiting the website at www.futurecity.org .
CMJ: What has your involvement taught you about future generations and their focus on technology?
Our participation in these wonderful programs has taught us that sharing real-life work experiences with students inspire them to take on and excel in the more challenging subjects that are crucially needed to sustain our society, environment, and economy. Once their curiosity is engaged, it continues to increase at an exponential rate, and the Future City Competition bears this out. I can say, most sincerely, that one of my favorite events of the year is the National Finals in Washington. Watching the presentations of these incredibly bright and enthusiastic young people is a remarkable experience that always leaves me encouraged about our nation’s future.
CM: What lessons have you learned from your personal involvement that has impacted you?
GB: Mentoring can make a huge difference in a child’s life. I know this is the case through my own involvement as a Big Brother with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. Through this rewarding experience, I am convinced that mentoring is of key importance to inspiring our next generation of infrastructure professionals. To further promote mentoring at Bentley, we have started the Be Mentors initiative, which is designed to support mentorship in STEM areas by both individuals and corporations.
The Be Mentors program provides assistance and resources for STEM mentors, and is open to all interested persons and organizations. The initial phase of Be Mentors is aimed at supporting the Future City Competition mentors in 2011-2012. From here we will expand support for ACE Mentors, SMART Competition, MATHCOUNTS, the National Academy of Engineers Grand Challenge, and other STEM-related programs in growing capacities, focusing on the value of the mentor in the learning process.
As I mentioned earlier, many of our Bentley colleagues currently volunteer as mentors, both for the Future City Competition and other STEM-related programs such as robotics and solar car competitions. Through the Be Mentors program, these colleagues will, in turn, support others in learning to inspire and encourage students in science, technology, engineering, and math.
You can learn more about our Be Mentors program at www.bentley.com/bementors .
CMJ: What other areas or programs has Bentley embraced in education? Software donations? Training? Partnerships with educational institutions?
GB: Many of the programs and initiatives that we embrace are in the form of mentorships, donations, and financial support. Examples include software donations to: Engineers Without Borders; AASHTO’s high school outreach program, TRAC; ACE Mentor; and the soon-to-be-launched “SMART Competition.”
At the university level, Bentley just recently awarded a research grant to the Society of Fire Protection Engineers Scientific and Educational Foundation named in memory of FDNY Assistant Chief Donald Burns. Chief Burns died in the collapse of the World Trade Center Towers on September 11, 2001, while setting up his command post to direct the evacuation. Through our partnership with SFPE, Bentley is awarding $25,000 annually in grant funds over a period of five years. Each grant will fund one or more baccalaureate, masters, and doctorate student global research projects that apply information modeling to improving emergency responder safety when training for, responding to, and operating during building emergencies.
Bentley’s Be Careers Network is dedicated to helping students graduate with the technology skills needed to start careers as infrastructure professionals in the architecture, engineering, geospatial, and construction fields. It does this by providing programs for students, faculty, and schools, including comprehensive and cost-effective software (for school labs and each student’s home computer and textbooks covering the full range of infrastructure disciplines; blended learning encompassing OnDemand eLearning available 24 X 7, product videos, and eSeminars, as well as curricula for educators; the tracking of student progress; professional networking and development through the Be Communities professional networking website; and academic competitions, such as the Student Design Competition, offering awards and scholarships. Just recently, we deployed STUDENTserver, a web based application where students and faculty can download software, enroll in training, or gain access to our Be Communities server with one single login. Be Careers is geared to the needs of students in universities, colleges, high schools, and technical schools. In addition, a special Be Employable initiative launched early in 2009 makes software and training available at no charge to outplaced infrastructure professionals.
CMJ: Where can someone go to get more information or get involved?
GB: For additional information about the National Engineers Week Future City Competition, your readers can visit www.futurecity.org . For additional information about (or to join) our Be Mentors initiative, they can—and I would encourage them to—visit www.bentley.com/bementors . For additional information about our Be Careers Network, they can visit www.becareers.org .