ECU construction students help with STEM youth program

Grayson Elks, 6, looks for some help with his project at the Farmville Public Library. (Photos by Rhett Butler)

Grayson Elks took careful steps in placing the beam upon his structure.

“I like to build,” he said.

But the structure started to collapse. The marshmallow foundation lost its shape, so Elks ate it.

“I used to not eat marshmallows,” the 6-year-old said. “But I do now.”

Elks was among the young students participating in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) project hosted by the Farmville Public Library with students and faculty from East Carolina University’s Department of Construction Management.

Drs. Carol Massarra and Jodi Farrington, assistant professors in the Department of Construction Management, brought members of ECU’s chapter of the Associated General Contractors to the library to help put on the program. They talked to the young participants about different shapes, and then instructed them how to build those shapes using marshmallows, pretzels and graham crackers.

“As soon as I heard about this, I knew it was something I wanted to do,” said Carson Hurysz, junior construction management major from Mebane. “I wanted to talk to them about building things and what we’re all about.”

He said he enjoyed working with the children, who ranged from kindergarten to second grade. He said the hardest part of the project was getting the pretzels to stay in the marshmallows.

“I’m probably having the most fun out of anybody,” Hurysz said.

Massarra said volunteering to work with the library is a way to introduce the construction management program to children and a way for the program to give back.

“It’s community involvement. We’re just not doing things on campus,” she said.

ECU construction management student Spencer Lambert helps build a structure from marshmallows and pretzels as part of a STEM program at the Farmville Public Library.

“In our program, we’re very strong on promoting the service side, not just academics,” Farrington added. “We’re teaching students that they need to serve their communities.”

Farrington said children as well as their parents learn through such community outreach events.

“Construction isn’t just about hammer and nails,” she said. “We’re managing projects and letting them know that it takes all kinds of people to build a building or bridges or something like that. And besides that, it’s fun. Work doesn’t always have to be work.”

Heather Harden, children’s and teen librarian at the Farmville Library, said a $40,000 grant from the state library supports its STEM programs. She said the programs match nicely with the construction of the new library, which opened in April.

“Our kids love hands-on activities,” Harden said. “They love building, and of course, sweets and food.”

Harden said the STEM programs are important to the educational development of the children.

“As a student I was always overwhelmed by science and math and never had the self-confidence, so doing activities like this at an early age I think will help them have academic success throughout school,” she said.

The Farmville library is partnering with construction management for two more programs. The program on Oct. 27 is geared toward students from third through fifth grade, while Nov. 19 will be for middle and high school students. Information on the programs is available by calling the library at 252-753-3355 or by going online.

ECU students and faculty, along with parents and children, enjoy a STEM program at the Farmville Public Library.