Job Shadowing Shows Math, Science in Action


Thirty-eight students follow STEM professionals on the job

By Lesia Winiarskyj

CBIA member company Burns & McDonnell (voted one of Fortune 100's Best Companies to Work For for the second straight year) regularly provides internships and job shadowing opportunities for AoEGT students. Ninth-grader Maximo Smith (standing) visited the company's Wallingford headquarters, where he and his classmates watched how photoionization detectors measure volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in soil samples and ambient air.

Polynomials. P orbitals. Quadratic equations.

When am I ever going to use this?

It’s a question kids have been asking teachers for generations: and one that CBIA member companies are helping them answer.

Take a Young Person to Work

Through a job shadowing program coordinated by CBIA’s Education Foundation, students from Hartford’s Academy of Engineering and Green Technology (AoEGT) are seeing math and science at work: literally. Nearly 40 students have accompanied 55 engineers, managers, and top executives to their offices, labs, and job sites, immersing themselves in their day-to-day routines.

“They’re seeing how STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] is used every day, in real and meaningful ways,” says Dayl Walker, program manager for CBIA’s Education Foundation.

Among the employees being shadowed are landscape architects; mechanical, civil, traffic, water resources, and structural engineers; human resources directors; project managers; CADD managers; company owners and presidents; and marketing and public affairs professionals. Businesses opening their doors to students include Aetna, Burns & McDonnell, BVH Integrated Services, CBIA, Hartford Prints!, Milone & MacBroom, Steffian Bradley Architects, and United Technologies Aerospace Systems (UTAS).

Connecting Curriculum with Careers

A number of AoEGT students say they will be the first in their families to finish high school and go on to college; many live with adults who work multiple low-wage jobs.

“A lot of our students have never seen a corporate environment or been exposed to professionals who are able to enjoy their work,” says Walker. “Many of them can’t imagine how their classroom subjects will have any relevance in the real world: until they spend time with people who use high-level STEM skills every day. That helps them make the connection and aspire to those same kinds of opportunities.”

When arranging job shadowing experiences, she says, Walker looks for employees who love their jobs.

“Their enthusiasm carries over. We also like to introduce young people to adults who at one time struggled to find their career, who made mistakes as teenagers or didn’t have an easy time growing up. Their stories are often the ones our students can relate to.”

Business-Education Partnerships

It’s hard to imagine someone more excited about dirt than Rachel Rosen. An environmental manager at Burns & McDonnell, Rosen recently hosted four AoEGT students, including freshman Maximo Smith, who plans to go into engineering.

“I never knew you could get a degree in dirt!” says Smith. “You learn a lot from job shadowing. Dirt isn’t just dirt; there’s more to it.”

His time with Rosen, he says, “made me think about the experiments we do in science with water and germs. Before job shadowing, I thought school was a waste of time. I never thought I’d use what I learned in class.”

“Schools can’t do this alone,” says AoEGT principal Michael Maziarz. “It is so important for our students to experience the workplace firsthand. It makes it real for them and helps them to understand the relevance of their classes. Visiting these companies gives them the chance to imagine what their world might look like one day when they are working. And when businesspeople tell them that their grades and attendance and attitude matter, they listen.”

Create a Job Shadowing Experience at Your Business

  • Provide an agenda in advance so that students know what to expect.
  • Conduct a tour of the facility and its various departments.
  • Invite students to the office of a senior manager or company president.
  • Include hands-on activities that put students in the roles of workers.
  • Offer one-on-one time with individual employees.
  • Rotate students among employees in different types of jobs.
  • Show students why employees like their jobs: for the teamwork, for the challenge of solving a problem, for making or doing something that helps people or makes the world a better place.
  • Make clear the connection between jobs and what students are learning in school.

To learn more, call contact Dayl Walker at 860.244.1935 or

Lesia Winiarskyj is a writer and editor at CBIA. She can be reached at

Click here for updates on CBIA’s education and workforce development programs.

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