Robbinsdale Area Schools’ Volunteers in Partnership program honored approximately 300 volunteers May 4 for their “out of this world” dedication to students at the annual recognition breakfast at New Hope Church.
“You are all here today because you embrace the belief in possibilities,” said Jill Kaufman, Volunteers in Partnership coordinator. “There’s hope for our future because of you and people like you who know that the strength of our community is rooted in something that we all possess, our humanity. It’s our humanity that is uniting us and also propelling us forward. Each one of you makes a difference in our communities and in the lives of our students.”
According to Kaufman, approximately 1,900 volunteers contributed 31,381 service hours to the district last year. This work translates into an income contribution of approximately $790,800, as calculated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics formula.
“It’s an extraordinary contribution,” she said.
This year’s theme was “Our volunteers are out of this world.” The space-themed breakfast featured STEM-based guests.
Fifth-grade students from the School of Engineering and Arts in Golden Valley showcased robots they constructed and programmed to the breakfast event attendees. Some robots were designed to follow drawn lines, others were programmed to perform selected tasks.
Supt. Carlton Jenkins expressed his appreciation for the volunteers and boasted about students’ achievements after graduation.
“Our children have gone off and done extremely well,” Jenkins said. “All of that happens because of the volunteers we have in District 281.”
Elizabeth Bierman, director of engineering for Comcast and past president of the Society of Women Engineers, was the event’s keynote speaker.
Bierman, a 2015 Space Camp Hall of Fame inductee, earned her bachelor’s of aerospace engineering and master’s in system engineering from Iowa State University before receiving an master’s in business administration from Bentley University.
Bierman said her passion to become an aerospace engineer began in fourth grade when she went to the store to purchase a plastic lunch box. The only lunch box left, she said, pictured an astronaut. Inside the lunch box was information about a young astronaut program.
“I thought, ‘I could be an astronaut,’” she said.
Six months later, on Jan. 28, 1986, NASA’s space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after liftoff, killing seven people on board.
“Instead of getting discouraged, I really wanted to learn about the astronauts that perished that day,” Bierman said.
Approximately one year later, she learned that three of the seven killed in the Challenger incident were aerospace engineers.
“As a fifth grader I decided, ‘OK, I’m going to be an aerospace engineer. I have no idea what that means,’” she said.
Nonetheless, it was something she was interested in.
For the next two years, Bierman begged her parents to attend Space Camp.
She finally had the opportunity to attend the summer before seventh grade.
“The adult influences there were really encouraging to pursue my dreams,” she said. “I felt it was the spark and the flame that I needed to continue pursuing what I wanted to do with my passion.”
Bierman said it was important to have encouraging adult figures in her life to help her achieve her career goals. Although parents can be great supporters, Bierman said having adults outside the family who believe in youth, want to see them succeed and help them get there is vital.
She credits the Society of Women Engineers for helping her get through the rigorous school work and propel her career forward following graduation.
“Being an adult influencer means so much to young people,” she said.
She encouraged attendees to provide information on all types of careers to their students, including STEM-related careers.
Contact Gina Purcell at [email protected]