Career Boost

Square One Network’s vehicle design competition inspires students to pursue STEM careers.
student working on miniature models to be raced.
Model Racing – Square One Network, a nonprofit group in Southfield, offers hands-on programs where students gain real-world experience. // Courtesy of Square One Education Network

With a shortage of workers in the science, technology, engineering, and math fields, the Southfield-based nonprofit Square One Network is finding success by providing hands-on opportunities for students to consider a post-high school STEM education and career.

This past May, Square One and Kettering University in Flint hosted a two-day innovative design competition in which 38 teams from 24 Michigan schools participated in person or virtually on projects that included either engineering a “Power Wheels Jeep” into an autonomous vehicle; re-engineering an electric one-tenth-scale RC vehicle, simulating the sensors and coding necessary for autonomous movement; or transforming a gas-powered go-kart or car into an electric or hybrid electric vehicle.

“If we want Michigan to be a global leader in mobility and manufacturing, we have to be an epicenter for inspiring and training kids,” asserts Barb Land, CEO of Square One. “We can help address the talent shortage, narrow the skills gap, and engage students so they can visualize career pathways that they may not have even realized were within their grasp.”

To support student design competitions, Square One partnered with the Michigan Department of Education, Washtenaw Community College, Michigan Economic Development Corp., Brose, Kettering University, ITS Michigan, MiSTEM Network, and Good Sense Media. Another partner, for the eighth consecutive year, was umlaut, a global full-service engineering and consulting firm that, over time, has donated more than $200,000 in cash and in-kind contributions, including funding scholarships and providing mentorships.

“With these competitions, the students are actually taking away skills that are transferable to real life, whether it’s project management, knowing how to build a budget, doing coding, (or) working as a team,” says Annette Skorupski, umlaut’s U.S. marketing lead. “Square One’s programs not only help to inspire students to pursue STEM careers, they also allow underprivileged schools that don’t necessarily have access to STEM educational programs to participate.”

Skorupski also has been pushing to get more women into STEM fields. Despite making up nearly half of the U.S. workforce, and although gains have been made, women comprise 27 percent of all STEM workers, according to a recent report by the U.S. Census Bureau.