A podcast designed by three young professionals at a leading Kansas City engineering firm is challenging stereotypes about STEM careers — and outdated narratives about people within their industry, said Becca Schmidt.
“The basis of the Generation STEM podcast: how can we attract young, vibrant, fun talent through the three of us being on a podcast together, talking about what we’re passionate about in the STEM industry?” said Schmidt, an associate client account manager at Black & Veatch who launched Generation STEM with her co-workers, Kevin Flaker and Ryan Karlin.
Generation STEM — previously known as Close of Business — debuted in 2017 when the recently graduated trio started their careers at Black & Veatch after college. More than three years later, the podcast generates about 2,500 monthly downloads — largely because of the hosts’ and guests’ conversational tone, Flaker said.
“Long articles about the engineering industry can be full of language that doesn’t reach the average reader. On top of that, the attention span of our generation is severely limited,” said Flaker, who works as an electrical engineer. “So we were like, ‘What if we talk about these things in an easy, digestible manner — as if it’s after work, having beers?’”
Although Black & Veatch presents Generation STEM, the trio has the creative freedom in organizing the podcast and their topics, they said.
Click here to listen to Generation Stem’s latest episode.
The podcast might be geared toward young people in the STEM industry, but the hosts’ comprehensive approach and lively curiosity allows for a broader audience, they explained.
“The podcast is pretty educational,” said Karlin, who works as a civil and structural engineer. “The STEM industry is so vast, and there are so many different specialties and topics. We’re three engineers who are primarily from the power background, so a lot of the topics we talk about are brand new to us.”
“So often in our interviews, we’re learning at the same time our listeners are,” Schmidt added.
Generation STEM has featured such notable guests as Joan Higginbotham, former NASA astronaut; Quinton Lucas, Kansas City mayor; and Karl Reid, executive director of the National Society of Black Engineers.
“We try to brainstorm topics and guests who are interesting to us, while keeping it pertinent to today’s news,” Karlin noted. “For example, during the California wildfires, we got connected to [nationally known pyrogeographer] Krista [West] who specializes in wildfire.”
The hosts also ask their guests to share personal advice. As three 20-somethings with long roads ahead in their careers, they noted that talking to their guests about career progression has been comforting and insightful.
“Joan Higginbotham sticks out to me when she was discussing her career path and how she ended up getting to where she is,” Schmidt said. “She talked about knowing what your passions are within your career, and taking opportunities that you might not normally take — be willing to deviate from your path and take chances because those are some of the most rewarding experiences.”
As young professionals in the STEM industry themselves, the trio also tries to step away from traditional interviews to instead explore alternate formats on current trends or their own research.
“In a couple recent episodes, we’ve done a year-in-review — what were a lot of the really cool innovations that we saw in the world during this [pandemic]? And after that, what do we think is going to be big in 2021?” Schmidt noted.
With each episode and new deep-dive, their fascination within the STEM — and entrepreneurship — industry has bloomed and grown, they shared.
“I think I’ve become more of a nerd since we’ve started the podcast,” Karlin said. “I’m broadening out my interests and reading a lot more STEM articles.”
“I’ve gotten a real interest in entrepreneurship, which is something I would have never considered for myself,” Schmidt said. “But we’ve gotten the opportunity to talk to entrepreneurs, learn about startups, talk about what’s going on in Silicon Valley — and we’re managing our own start here [with our podcast.] It’s been cool to open up this whole new path I wasn’t aware of before.”
In 2021, the hosts plan to continue releasing new episodes and building the podcast’s brand. They also hope to give listeners the opportunity to get to know them and connect on a deeper level.
For those on the fence about listening, they advised a leap of faith — acknowledging one never knows what they might discover in any given conversation.
“There’s a lot of cool things going on in the world of STEM,” Flaker said. “If you’re passionate about the environment or transportation or whatever topic, then hopefully you can be inspired or gain knowledge from our episodes.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.