ABOVE: ConocoPhillips Stakeholder Relations Director and TAME Advisory Board Member Stu Mussler judges student efforts during the engineering design challenge. 

Text and photography by Gus Morgan

Across the massive room, you could see the future at work. Three hundred students, grades 6-12, moved like a hive of bees, their brains switched to overdrive, using teamwork to solve an engineering design challenge. This is the workforce of tomorrow participating in the Texas Alliance of Minorities in Engineering’s (TAME) 2019 State STEM Competition (science, technology, engineering and math).

ConocoPhillips was the presenting sponsor for the 34th annual event in Huntsville, Texas on April 27 and chose this year’s theme: Powering Civilization.

ABOVE: ConocoPhillips Brand & Community Programs Manager Andrew Roberts | TOP, FROM LEFT: Allie Miller, Aubrey Miller and Jazmine Trujillo from TAME's Wichita Falls Chapter

“We are thankful to TAME for helping build a strong, diverse workforce for the future by inspiring thousands of minority students from across the state to pursue careers in STEM,” said Andrew Roberts, manager, Brand & Community Programs.

For more than 40 years, TAME has reached hundreds of thousands of Texas students through programs that motivate and inspire young people to pursue careers in STEM fields. While TAME programs are open to everyone, the nonprofit organization targets female, Hispanic, African American and Native American students, populations underrepresented in STEM fields.

ConocoPhillips has worked closely with TAME since its inception to create a new generation of engineers and other highly skilled workers. This year, ConocoPhillips donated $130,000 to TAME to support scholarships; 14 Divisional STEM Competitions and the State STEM Competition; the Trailblazer mobile STEM museums; and the STEM-focused comic book series Science Squad.

 Top-scoring students from each of the 14 Divisional STEM Competitions advance to the State level. At the State STEM Competition, students participate in math and science assessments before tackling a team engineering design challenge.

Andy O'Brien, Manager, Lower 48 Finance, and ConocoPhillips volunteer Ruth Muniz-Diaz listen to a TAME team explain their project during judging for the engineering design challenge. 
ConocoPhillips Lower 48 Finance Analyst and TAME Board Member Britiany Hayes

Volunteers in action

ConocoPhillips employees helped create this year’s design challenge and volunteered as test proctors, judges and event coordinators. More than 30 employees helped during this year’s State Competition.

“The best way to foster inclusion is to have a more diverse talent pool to pull from,” said Britiany Hayes, a ConocoPhillips Lower 48 Finance analyst and TAME board member. “Getting these students to become passionate about STEM now will hopefully encourage them to pursue related degrees and careers.”

Hayes said TAME empowers female and minority students in Texas by giving them access to STEM resources and knowledge they may not have otherwise encountered. And she said TAME teachers and club leaders continually encourage their students to network and envision themselves achieving their dreams.

ConocoPhillips Integrated Operations of the Future Data Technician Joyce Nolly

Joyce Nolly, another volunteer and an Integrated Operations of the Future data technician, said ConocoPhillips’ title sponsorship for the 2019 State STEM Competition made her proud to work for the company.

“It shows a commitment to students, their education and their future,” she said. “ConocoPhillips helped make it a memorable weekend.”

ConocoPhillips Master Data Analyst Felicia Wilkerson

Volunteer Felicia Wilkerson, master data analyst, shared a success story about a female student who has participated in TAME competitions every year from sixth to 12th grade.

“This young lady has now been accepted and will be attending Massachusetts Institute of Technology,” Wilkerson said. “Obviously, you do not get into MIT by one single action. She has done a lot of right things in her life to be accepted there. I hope her involvement in TAME and exposure to STEM because of our program was one of the many steps that helped her get to this prestigious institution. It is amazing, and I’m extremely proud of her success.”

A TAME competitor attempts to remove a stuck object from a well bore, a process known as fishing, during the engineering design challenge. 

Gone fishin’

For the engineering design challenge, teams of six students were tasked with finding solutions to a common drilling problem: removing pipe or tools lost or stuck in the well bore, a process referred to as fishing. The students had to recover the lost equipment using the tools provided and staying within a budget.

ConocoPhillips Completions Engineer Sam Schroeder

“In a real-life scenario, fishing requires quick, creative thinking, budgeting and a lot of teamwork,” said Completions Engineer Sam Schroeder, who worked with other engineers to develop the challenge. “This challenge put those same skills to the test and was designed to help students prepare for future careers in engineering.”

While sharpening students’ problem-solving skills, the design challenge also taught them to collaborate and communicate effectively.

“A deliberate part of the design challenge is for the students to get along with people they’ve never met,” Roberts said. “By the end of the day, you’d think they’d known each other for years.”

After the design challenge, students participated in an interactive presentation that included a film on global energy called Switch. An awards ceremony wrapped up the day’s STEM events. 

TAME Executive Director Savita Raj

TAME Executive Director Savita Raj said the ConocoPhillips sponsorship was a tremendous gesture, covering the cost of travel, meals and housing. Such support enabled students to focus on the competition and enjoy themselves without worrying about money.

Raj recalled a conversation she had with one TAME student that summarized the event with stunning clarity.

Raj asked the student, “What was the best part of your day?”

“Seeing my future,” the student replied.