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Celebration of Service


IBM project manager uses marshmallows (and On Demand Community) to inspire young engineers

Spaghetti and marshmallows. An odd taste treat for 8 year old children, or a great way for them to learn something about engineering?

Thankfully, the first grade and third grade children at Bentley Elementary school in Orlando, Florida, were more interested in building the tallest structures using the sugary gelatin cubes and pasta than eating them. “They were so proud of what they had built,” says Regine Racine-Bowen, an IBM executive project manager who volunteered to introduce the children to engineering at the school’s November 2010 “Teach-in”—a more engaging version of the typical career day. “I was surprised they were so interested and focused. They didn’t want the session to end, and I had such a great time.”

“When I think back about being in school, I don’t remember someone from corporate America coming in and talking to us about what they do in a way that it made it really interesting and fun,” recalls Regine. So when she decided to participate in the teach-in she knew a monologue about her company, project management or strategic outsourcing wouldn’t appeal to most of her young audience.

Engineering…animated and active

While watching episodes of “SpongeBob SquarePants™” might have been popular with the students, it would have fallen short of teaching them anything meaningful about engineering. Instead Regine found a more appropriate animated character named Jai, in a presentation on IBM’s On Demand Community called “Cool games, real careers,” which uses gaming and virtual worlds to help introduce young students to engineering.

“The tools that IBM makes available are a huge plus. We’re pretty busy in our day jobs, and to have to put something together from scratch is not easy to do,” she says. “There were so many tools available. I had more than what I needed.”

Using resources from ODC, a global community that combines the skills of over 160,000 IBM employee and retiree volunteers with the power of access to IBM technology, training, and support, Regine coupled the animated presentation on cool games with another presentation from ODC about technology careers to create a tailored experience for her young audience.

And of course, the spaghetti and marshmallows. Regine added a hands-on activity to make engineering come alive in a fun way. “I was impressed at the structures the children built and how well they worked as a team. With the activity I was able to reinforce that there is not always one right answer, the value of teamwork and the importance of learning from mistakes.”

A natural fit

Though not an engineer, Regine had previously participated in activities that encouraged children to consider engineering careers. “It’s innate in children that they question everything, and are interested in how things work. Engineering is many things, but children easily understand that it is about asking a lot questions, and wondering “why” and “how.” It’s almost a natural fit for them.”

In 2010, Regine volunteered during Engineering Week to help at an event for inner city schools. Sponsored by IBM and several other companies, she accompanied the students through various live demonstrations and workshops on engineering. As she tells it, “I learned a lot myself about engineering in those sessions. It’s also one of the reasons how I got the idea of doing something similar locally, at our school.”

Celebrating service has its benefits

In Regine’s search on IBM’s On Demand Community for presentation content she came across something else in ODC that turned out to be a wonderful surprise: IBM’s community grants program.

Now expanded to include two new grant opportunities in 2011 as part of the company’s celebration of service, IBM community grants are available to eligible community organizations and schools where IBM employees and retirees are actively volunteering, and in support of specific projects.

Working with the school, Regine put together a proposal to request materials needed to help improve 3rd grade math scores, and the grant was awarded. The math coach at Bentley Elementary said, “These are things we needed to get and in these times of tight budgets I wasn't sure how we'd find the funds. This will make such a difference for our students.”

IBM is marking its centennial year with a worldwide celebration of volunteer service. Throughout 2011, IBM invites everyone to join our global community of employees, retirees, families and friends as we support the communities where we work, live and learn together.