A Chicago infrastructure engineering firm is partnering with an elementary school to encourage students to love math and science and foster a new generation of engineers.

Employees from Ardmore Roderick visited Benjamin E. Mays Academy on Chicago’s south side in April to lead STEM activities designed to spur students’ interest in science, technology, engineering and math.

Engineers Sam Boye and Desmond Truite, who is a graduate of Mays, discussed with 7th and 8th graders the role of a construction manager and the importance of good communication. Students walked another student, who played the role of a blindfolded builder, through steps to construct various structures.

“The students quickly learned that in order to have success they needed to be very specific about what they wanted their teammate to do,” Truite says.

The presentation also covered what happens when there is a lack of communication. They were shown projects that have failed and ones that have succeeded such as the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifia in Dubai.

Ardmore Roderick CEO Rashod R. Johnson discovered a passion for engineering when a high school physics teacher encouraged him to intern at Walsh Construction.

Fast forward to 2005 when Johnson founded an engineering firm in the attic of his home. That firm now has more than 260 employees.

Johnson says an early influence can make all the difference in whether students pursue interests in STEM.

“Many African-Americans seem afraid of math and science. As adults, we must overcome that fear and nurture students at a young age,” he says. “You can’t create a love for math and science in high school or college. You have to love it as a 5-, 6-, 7-year-old.”

Making connections with people who work in the field is also important for students, Johnson says.

“We are inspiring these students to choose careers in engineering and construction by connecting them with industry people who look like them,” he says. “The quality of our team is better due to our commitment to diversity, and that commitment starts with the impact we can have on these kids.”

Tanyelle L. Hannah, Mays principal, says the school welcomes Ardmore Roderick’s efforts to help students discover STEM.

“At Mays Academy, we try to create a village model taken from the African proverb, ‘It takes a village to raise a child,’” she says. “We are grateful that Ardmore Roderick has chosen to become a part of our village and learning community. To see the faces of our scholars light up when they explore STEM activities would bring any principal joy.”

Johnson was the first Ardmore Roderick employee to visit the school to discuss STEM.

“They [students] saw themselves in the face of the CEO. It has been a priceless gift,” she says.