Orton focuses on STEM outreach efforts to inspire next generation

November 19, 2021

Portrait of Sarah Orton

Sarah Orton

A Mizzou Engineer took time away from her busy academic and research schedule earlier this week to share her expertise on bridges with local middle school students. Sarah Orton, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, addressed about 100 seventh graders at Jefferson Middle School, a STEAM Academy in Columbia.

“They were really interested in different types of bridge designs and how concrete and steel bridges can move and even collapse,” Orton said. “They also had some really good ideas about bridge aesthetics, strength and design.”

For Orton, meeting with a younger generation is just as beneficial to her as it is for the students. Outreach is critical, she said, as governmental agencies and firms will continue to need qualified civil engineers to design and build roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

“We have to inspire the next generation,” she said. “I can’t do this work unless there are others coming behind me who can continue it. It’s important to get younger students interested in engineering, and really showing them engineering as a way to solve global problems.”

That’s why Orton is also working on educational components around the I-70 Rocheport Bridge replacement project alongside the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) and design-build contractors from Lunda Construction. As part of their successful proposal for the project, Lunda has agreed to implement innovative STEM training and outreach efforts.

“We’ll be developing modules and lesson plans for classrooms across the state as part of that outreach,” Orton said. “This will allow more students to see engineering on a small scale and get excited about career possibilities.”

In all, the team plans to develop 12 lesson plans and activities over the next two years.

Orton’s passion for outreach complements her teaching style at Mizzou Engineering, where she also serves as Director of Undergraduate Studies for the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

“My goal is to inspire students and make them successful,” she said. “I want students to succeed. That’s my role as a teacher.”