In this issue of Fast Forward you can read about a number of different extracurricular programs that give middle and high school students the chance to explore their interests in transportation, engineering, and construction hands-on. As King Gee’s story goes to show, getting involved early in such programs can help students get a head start on choosing a college major and preparing for their future careers. Not to mention they’re a blast, and can help students connect with peers who have similar interests.
King Gee is the Transportation Performance Market Leader for CDM Smith, and the former Associate Administrator of Infrastructure for the United States Federal Highway Administration. The U.S. transportation infrastructure consists of everything from roads and bridges, to airports, rail, and sea ports. It's what keeps the nation and the economy moving. As Associate Administrator, Gee’s task was to work with law-makers, scientists, engineers, and others to make the infrastructure more safe, cost-effective, sustainable, and environmentally friendly. For example, one of his major tasks was to work with vehicle and road designers to decrease the number of injuries and fatalities on America's roads and highways.
“We’ve done a lot of scientific research into why crashes happen and to figure out how to make design changes both in the roadway and in cars to lessen the chance that those accidents will happen," Gee said. "And I think that has saved lives. Most people don’t realize that we lose 30,000 people on our roads and streets in this country every year. When we ask people what the goal should be, people think maybe a hundred, maybe a thousand. But what?s your family goal? Zero. So I think safety is a huge issue that has lots of challenges.”
During his career, Gee also worked internationally to help developing countries enhance their transportation systems.
“A favorite memory I have is actually helping other countries like China learn about how the [U.S.] interstate highway system was planned, designed, built, and what a difference it makes in this country. Many countries don’t have that,” he said.
Middle and high school students can learn a lot from Gee's story, because it was partially his actions during the years before he even applied for college that first got him started down his path to success.
As a teenager, Gee attended a trade school for students who wanted to become engineers. Aside from the usual courses like math, science, and English, he took courses like woodworking, foundry, and drafting, which were hands-on and prepared him with the specific knowledge and skills he would need to be an engineer. While most high school students today probably won't attend a trade school, any of the extracurricular programs discussed in this issue of Fast Forward might be a close substitute for students who want to have fun and get a head start on college and their future careers. The ACE Mentor Program, for example, lets you work on mock design and construction projects as though you were a real industry professional. The FHWA NSTI program and the ASCE Civil Engineering Club get you connected with two of the nation's most prominent engineering organizations. In FIRST Robotics, you actually build robots and pit them against robots from other teams. In Future Cities, you can plan and design your vision of the cities of the future to generate possible solutions for problems like water pollution. At Construction Career Days, you can drive an excavator, or learn to operate a crane. Each of these programs also connects you with mentors who have already been successful in these industries, and who can provide knowledge and guidance that will help you find a path to success. Like Gee’s trade school experience, extracurricular programs can help today’s students get involved in very career-oriented, hands-on learning that goes beyond the standard reading, writing, and arithmetic. In these programs, students can get a head start on skills that most people don't learn until college.
Gee, himself, graduated from trade school with the skills and experience to be confident that he could enter any number of different fields.
“I could’ve become a craftsman, a draftsman, or gone on to college.” he said. “I chose college.”
When he enrolled at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, he was already prepared to hone in on his interests and pursue a specific field of engineering.
“That’s when I really concentrated on transportation,” he said. “Among the civil engineering fields it was the most dynamic, and it impacted people on a daily basis, really touching our quality of life.”
In college at Rensselaer, he also sharpened his non-technical skills by taking courses in the humanities and social sciences. It’s a sure bet that being ahead in the technical courses that related to his major?courses like engineering, math, and drafting?gave Gee a bit more time to focus on what he felt were his somewhat more difficult subjects, like public speaking.
Gee soon graduated, becoming the first member of his family to earn a college diploma. He then went on to earn a master’s degree in transportation, and was later hired by the FHWA, where he began his ascent to management.
“One of the things about engineers?,” he said, “is that you can either stay very focused and do engineering work, like design and construction, or, you move up and you end up in management. I ended up being in management.”
Like Gee, students of today can have fun, make friends, find their interests, hone their skills, and and get a head start on college and their future careers through extracurricular programs. Imagine entering Introduction to Civil Engineering during your first year in college after already having helped to construct a bridge or plan a future city during middle or high school! You might not only impress your professors, but could even accelerate beyond the basic courses more quickly than you may have had you not participated in an extracurricular program. Extracurricular programs can also give you a feel for what you like or don’t like, what you’re good at, what you’re great at, and where you think you could stand to improve. You might discover that you’re really great at calculus, for example, but not so hot at geometry and could use some extra practice. Or that you like engineering, but what you’re really interested in is environmental engineering. These are realizations that many students don’t come to until late in college, which could help you avoid a time-consuming change of major six months before your university graduation.
Finally, exploring your career early might better prepare you to select the best, most beneficial courses when you do get to college. You can literally start building your resume before you even head into the workforce. And don’t forget that many extracurricular programs offer a number of college scholarship opportunities for students who participate!
To sum it up, if you want to have fun, explore your interests, and get a head start that might help you in college and on your career path, you might look into one of the extracurricular programs featured in this issue. The articles you'll read here describe each program in detail. Links to each program's website are also provided to make your search even easier.
Gee’s advice says it all:
“It’s important to get ideas from wherever you can to figure out what you want to do with life. Talk to people who are involved. Teachers, professionals. ? We love to talk about what we do. And then prepare for it. And be willing to work hard, and dream.”