Steven Graczyk wasn’t entertaining the possibility of an engineering career before his class went on a field trip to a defense company. He almost went into law.
After his senior class visited a General Dynamics Land Systems (GD) facility in Sterling Heights four years ago, Graczyk decided this was the career path for him and has gone on to intern for the company. He is now finishing a mechanical engineering degree at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield and says the visit to GD changed his life.
“I remember getting to see a virtual reality demonstration, which was really cool at that time, “ says Graczyk. “It definitely piqued my interest in what was out there.”
With a push from many manufacturing companies and schools to get students into science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, Graczyk’s story is ideal.
GD engineering specialist Adriana Apahidean says it’s all about exposure, especially for young women. Growing up in a family of girls, she and her sisters went into the field because of the way their engineering father encouraged them in sciences early on. Now Apahidean organizes tours for students like Graczyk and wants to share her passion with the next generation.
Every year, Apahidean arranges for five to six student groups to come through the company's Maneuver Collaboration Center (mc2). During the visit, the students try out advanced products and technology. Not surprisingly, the virtual reality displays are a hit.
“They come in and we immerse them in a different environment, they get to sit inside our Abrams tank—virtually—and look around.”
Nearly 1,000 students have come through the tour program, and the research center exposes visitors as young as fourth grade to cutting-edge designs, like their new drones. Apahidean says it often helps broaden their horizons, and she spends the first portion of her tours discussing different career options. She explains that students don’t have to fit into those but, if they are interested, there are a lot of pathways from which to choose.
Interest in STEM education is best when the community works together, Apahidean says, adding that the ideal scenario is when families, educators, and employers collaborate.
“If there is a parent who can stand behind that student, that’s the most critical thing,” says Apahidean. “Students need to feel that someone heralds and encourages their love for science, technology, engineering, and math.”