The Columbia University professor-turned-agency commissioner created the STEAM Initiatives division, led by Deputy Commissioner Lee Llambelis, in November 2014 to expose young students to the fields of science, technology, engineering, architecture/arts and math.
Through afterschool programs for middle school kids, internship programs for high school and college students, and a host of other community outreach initiatives, Pena-Mora hopes to spark interest in young people who may eventually work in STEAM-related careers.
“We are focusing on the things that lead to a career,” Pena-Mora said. “It may take us five to ten years, but it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
DDC teams up with other city agencies to identify schools that need these types of programs and work with afterschool providers to implement an engaging and hands-on curriculum for students.
Pena-Mora said the initiatives usually look at renewal and community schools, targeting women and minority students who are underrepresented in the STEAM industries.
“We are trying to ensure we provide opportunities for all,” Pena-Mora said. “We want to open the opportunities to different types of individuals.”
Pena-Mora said unlike other programs that offer catch-up material for underrepresented students, he wants DDC’s youth programs to expose them to the latest cutting-edge technology.
Looking into the future, the commissioner said he believes the fields of civil engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, architecture, landscape architecture and historic preservation will be needed.
But for now, the agency’s Young Engineers Program is going into middle schools like I.S. 127 in East Elmhurst to teach students about concepts like runoff and insulation. And with a pipeline for youth to follow, they may go from young engineers to full-time engineers, maybe even with the DDC.
“They will hopefully continue in the field and hopefully come to work for DDC,” Pena-Mora said.