For every young person’s interest or hobby, plumbing engineers helped design a building or facility for it.
“If you like sports, there are stadiums and people who design stadiums,” said Chris Imhof, education chairman for the ASPE Baltimore chapter. “If you like athletic gear, there are people who design warehouses. They design storefronts for these people — anything you can think of. If you like the medical field, but you don’t want to be a doctor — we design hospitals. If you like computers, we don’t design computers — we design data centers. Every time you see a building out there, we’re touching it.”
That’s one of the key messages the Baltimore ASPE chapter presented to high school students during a special Engineers Week event it hosted in February at the Engineers Club of Baltimore.
Chapter President Jeff Edwards, Chapter Technical Vice President Chuck Swope and Imhof planned and organized the event for about 40 area high school students with the help of chapter members, engineers, designers, business leaders and manufacturers reps. The event began with a presentation and was followed by a tour of hands-on booth demos in the ornate red-and-gold engineers club.
For the presentation, Imhof and a panel provided the students with a brief history of plumbing, followed by curriculum and education guidance for becoming plumbing engineers, and then topical issues in the profession to capture attention.
The theme of the presentation was “Public Health and its Relation to Plumbing Design,” including a rundown of causes and concerns regarding Legionella.
“That really caught their attention,” Imhof said. “We told them where the danger (temperature) zone was, and at one point, we asked them, ‘Where might they see water in the danger zone?’ One of the students said, ‘Well, your water heater.’ We said, ‘Yeah, that’s absolutely correct.’ It let them put the pieces together.”
Lunch followed the presentation, giving students an opportunity to ask questions about the field in a casual setting before the booth demos.
The big day helped provide a path for students who might not have parents in STEM fields who can guide their children that way. Imhof said parents show their excitement when experts in the field show their willingness to talk and meet with prospective students.
“It’s unfortunate, I think they don’t know where to go to look for the information,” he said. “Because I think most people in our field would be very excited to help out. But unless they get put in touch with these people, unless they meet up, then it’s not going to happen.”
It was a great opportunity to reveal the depth and variety of plumbing engineering to students who might only think of plumbing in regard to toilet repair, Edwards said.
“They’re not thinking of all the great systems we actually do work on,” he said.
“Gas, chemical waste, all of that – if we’re doing our job, nobody knows we’re doing anything at all,” Swope added.
Edwards, Swope and Imhof said they plan to make this a yearly event. The three are excited about the chapter’s ambition and initiative. In the last two years, it’s added an AYP liaison, and a Women of ASPE liaison, in addition to AYP events to recruit young engineers. In January, the club also hosted a pipe assembly event at a local plumbing steamfitter’s union shop.
“I invited 20 engineers to come in, and (engineers) were able to assemble copper pipe with press fits,” Edwards said. “They were allowed to cut cast-iron pipe and assemble it with no-hub couplings. The Copper Development Association had one of its experts there and he showed everyone how to solder and braze 4-inch copper. And Charlotte Pipe, which was one of our sponsors, had a representative who illustrated how to do all the cast-iron assembly.”
“As engineers, we don’t have this hands-on experience with how these pipes are put together,” Swope said. “We’re responsible for putting these drawings together, but we have no idea how the pipes go together.”
The chapter also plans to follow up with high school students who attended the first Engineers Week event hosted in February. Next year, they hope to double the number of attendees.
“If they take away anything from our presentation, it’s that we’re here and we’re available,” Swope said. “There are resources here to help you go further with that. When I was in high school, I thought this was just something that the architects did. You went to school to be an architect to build a building. That was it. Engineers went and worked for Ford, or at a manufacturing plant. Civil engineers went and built roads. So, there’re a lot more facts, and I hope that’s what we presented for Engineers Week and our pipe assembly events — that there’s more to plumbing than at its face.”
– Ed McMenamin reporting