Hundreds of excited Lee’s Summit children dashed into Science City in Union Station Tuesday to spin, climb and pull on the million-dollar interactive exhibit designed by their friends, a nine-student team from Mason Elementary School working with professional engineers.
They scattered and Science City’s first outdoor exhibit, the 12,000-square feet Simple Machines at Play, was filled with laughter and shouts as they flew on zip lines, climbed three stories high, or lifted each other using a lever.
The team from Mason, part of Aspire a program for gifted students in the Lee’s Summit School District, worked about 18 months on the project alongside engineers and other professionals at Burns & McDonnell engineering firm. In 2015 they won the Battle of the Brains contest held by the Burns & McDonnell Foundation for that opportunity.
The team of Eden Wheeler, Julia Washburn, Miah Frashier, Ben Guthrie, Paden Cole, Zyza Cooley, Bella Washburn, Selah Wheeler, Reagan Parker also won $50,000 for their school to be used for STEM education.
The Battle of the Brains is a K-12 STEM competition (science, technology, engineering and math) to encourage children’s interests in those areas.
The Mason students’ concept was to build a fun exhibit that would demonstrate how simple machines, like inclined planes and pulleys work. They were selected in the completion that included 510 entries from 210 schools.
Before getting to play, all the students from Mason marched into the exhibit area, led with a flourish by the Lee’s Summit North High School marching band and listened to a few speeches. Parents, grandparents and dignitaries from the school district, Union Station and Burns & McDonnell were part of the grand-opening.
Jeremy and Renee Guthrie, parents of Ben Guthrie, said the program offered by the foundation was extraordinary for the children. For about 18 months they worked with the firm, learning about teamwork and the process of refining an idea to a buildable project from volunteers at Burns & McDonnell.
“They treated them like adults in the board room and showed them different career paths,” Renee Guthrie said. “It’s been an incredible experience for them.”
Burns & McDonnell over the past six years has been supported new exhibits at the science museum in Union Station. During that time attendance has grown dramatically, nearly doubling, said George Guastello, CEO of Science City. He noted that a myriad of people had gone through Union Station and that the new outdoor exhibit is on an area that was part of the rail yard. Nearby there still are active railroad tracks.
“This is a real big day for Science City,” Guastello said. “This is a new experience for the next generation.”
Over the past nine years, Burns &McDonnell has invested nearly $6 million in on six exhibits at Science City, the Simple Machines at Play being the latest.
Team members also added their remarks.
Miah Frashier looked back at when they started work on their entry . “All I remember about that day was laughing with my friends,” Miah said. “I had no idea where we were headed that day.” And she recalled the assembly where winners were announced, Mason bested hundreds of entries in the Kansas City area. She said they “freaked out” as they realized during the announcements that they got first place.
“Seeing our little dream turn into reality is the most memorable,” Miah said.
Burns & McDonnell CEO Ray Kowalik, a Lee’s Summit resident, said since the foundation began working with Science City six years ago, the museum’s become a world-class facility.
He said the foundation’s work to help create interest in science, with support from volunteers at the firm, is the most important community service his company does. He said seeing their faces light up as their sketches were transformed into an exhibit is a moment he won’t forget.
“I guarantee we have some future engineers here,” Kowalik said. “But it’s not just about engineers. We need kids to stay excited about math and science.” Whatever field students eventually choose for careers, he said, the world needs people who are fluent in math and science.
Before getting to play, first the children marched into the exhibit area led by the Lee’s Summit North High School marching band and listened to a few speeches.
Parents, grandparents, of the team, and dignitaries from the school district, Union Station and Burns & McDonnell were part of the grand-opening, rounding out the crowd.
Aspire teacher Jenny Reidlinger said her students had opportunity to be eyewitnesses and participants in the design process. “They have seen their initial idea redesigned, and redesigned and redesigned until it was awesome,” Reidlinger said. “It is awesome to see big ideas from kids changing the world.”
Burns and McDonnell also announced another round of the Battle of the Brains competition.
Riedlinger said she wasn’t certain if her students could be eligible to enter again, but she is certain they’d want to.
“If I ask them, they’ll say yes,” Reidlinger said, laughing. “It was a lot of work, but it was worth it.”