Over the past several years, there has been an increasing focus in the U.S. on deepening the science, technology, engineering and math talent pool. And while the number of STEM graduates is on the rise, women continue to be underrepresented in these fields. Day of Discovery, an annual event hosted by Thornton Tomasetti, seeks to turn the tide by introducing girls to architecture, engineering and construction careers.
Senior Building Information Modeler Luz Angela Gault talks about the connection design work on One Vanderbilt. Photo by Catherine Sanso.
In early October, 45 middle and high school students participated in Day of Discovery at our New York, Madison Avenue office. This year’s event centered on One Vanderbilt, a 1.6-million-square-foot office tower now under construction. When complete, the 57-story building will be New York City’s second tallest at over 1,400 feet. Thornton Tomasetti is providing construction engineering and modeling services on the project, a development of SL Green Realty Corp.
Victoria Cerami of Cerami explains how good acoustical design can reduce both noise and vibration. Photo by Catherine Sanso.
“We chose to focus on One Vanderbilt, because of all the strong, professional women involved in leadership roles on the project,” said Senior Engineer Catherine Sanso, a member of Thornton Tomasetti’s Women@TT community of practice, who organized the event.
Anne Billig of Janos, Baum & Bolles talks about what an MEP engineer does. Photo by Catherine Sanso.
The day featured informative talks from women in AEC leadership positions on the One Vanderbilt project about the rewards and challenges of working in the built environment. The visit included a series of hands-on activities aimed at demonstrating basic building design and construction concepts. Participants then got the chance to see those principles in action during a visit to a construction site.
The students used K’nex to build their own structures. Photo by Bess Adler.
Speakers included Nicole McGlinn-Morrison of Kohn Pedersen Fox (architecture), Victoria Cerami of Cerami (acoustical engineers), Katherine Kliphuis of Langan (site/civil engineering), Anne Billig of Jaros, Baum & Bolles (MEP engineers), Caroline Lama of Vidaris (building envelope and sustainability consulting), and Jan Hilgeman of Hines (development manager) and Senior Building Information Modeler Luz Angela Gault of Thornton Tomasetti. Each of these women talked about their career paths and experiences as well as their roles on One Vanderbilt. Thornton Tomasetti Vice Chairman and Day of Discovery founder Aine Brazil also addressed the group regarding her own professional journey and the need for more women in engineering. “It was inspiring to hear their personal stories of what attracted them to their respective fields.” Catherine said.
Vice Chairman Aine Brazil inspects one of the supertall building projects created by the student teams. Photo by Bess Adler.
The presentations provided the students with a primer on the design process. They learned about the need to balance such factors as aesthetics, constructability, schedule and economics as well as the teamwork needed to take a project like One Vanderbilt from the drawing board to reality.
Thornton Tomasetti Principal Steve Witkowski (left), project manager for One Vanderbilt, and Senior Engineer Catherine Sanso led student groups on a tour of the project site. Photo by Bess Adler.
Teamwork was also necessary in pulling the Day of Discovery together. Responsible for organizing the event were Catherine, Luz Angela and Project Engineer Jamie Kirkland. Jamie, a Day of Discovery veteran, put together last year’s event, which focused on The Shed, a multi-function cultural space at Hudson Yards in Manhattan.
The site visit gave students a chance to see buildings in a new light. Photo by Bess Adler.
After the presentations, Day of Discovery participants applied some of the concepts they learned from the experts to build their own models using various materials. Working in teams, the students were tasked with constructing two models: a tall tower and a structure able to withstand a dead load. “Problem solving and team building are two of the most essential skills for developing a career in any field,” Catherine said. “The activities were designed to show the students how important these are to the AEC profession.”
A project leader talks about some of the design details of One Vanderbilt. Photo by Bess Adler.
The day was capped off with a site visit to One Vanderbilt and an opportunity to see the real-world applications. Construction managers and engineers took the students to several areas of the building. “It was valuable that they were able to get to experience the site they’d spent hours learning all about,” Catherine said. “There was a good deal of enthusiasm among the students. They asked some great questions about One Vanderbilt, AEC work and the building process.”
The Day of Discovery participants and organizers gather for a group photo at the end of an exciting and educational day. Photo by Bess Adler.
Now in its fourth year, Day of Discovery aims to show students the importance of science, technology, math and engineering in daily life and, hopefully, to bring more smart women into the AEC industry. “We wanted this year’s event to be both thought-provoking and fun,” Catherine said. “Judging by the students’ reactions, I believe we’ve achieved our goal.”
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