‘Technimetric’ = Poetry + STEM
“Future engineers: It’s our time and we gotta own it. If you got the force to go the distance, then it’s your moment. But you gotta stay up on it….”
It started with a performance of this poem, submitted for a competition held by the Stay With It campaign, which encourages engineering students to finish their degrees. Then a civil engineering doctoral student, Nehemiah Mabry, E.I.T., won the 2012 grand prize for his video entry using engineering concepts in word play, following the tradition of performance-based, spoken word poetry. The experience, he explains, “provided the validation that there is a need for a nontraditional perspective on engineering and STEM as a whole.”
Mabry now works as a bridge design engineer for North Carolina-based Simpson Engineers & Associates. But he also serves as president of STEMedia, the company he founded to provide “creative and inspirational content for the science, technology, engineering, and math community” while taking a special interest in underrepresented minorities. One of its initiatives, inspired by the Stay With It win, is the STEM-focused Technimetric Poetry Slam.
Participants perform their poetry for prizes at the open-mic-style competition, which took place in January 2014 and 2016 at Mabry’s alma mater, North Carolina State University.
“We wanted to encourage creativity among the STEM disciplines and provide an outlet for engineering majors and other students to express themselves in a unique way,” says Mabry. In the process, participants challenge stereotypes about those majors.
The first poetry slam included “a lot of romantic people,” says Mabry, “talking about chemistry and all that.” The most recent event involved more issue commentary, he says, using word play from engineering and other STEM subjects.
The events were cohosted by NC State campus organizations, including the National Society of Black Engineers chapter and the Minority Engineering Programs Office. Attendees have doubled from about 80 to 160, and Mabry hopes to continue annually.
Morgan Sanchez, a junior studying civil engineering, performed at this year’s event. Her poem focused on her role as a woman in engineering who is also a minority. Although she says public speaking makes her nervous, the audience provided a welcoming environment that she believes will inspire her to “share more, get out there, and be more open.”
Art stimulates your brain in a different way, she says. It helps engineers become more creative.
Recent years have brought a growing advocacy for STEAM—adding the arts into science, technology, engineering, and math. But to Mabry, “everything has always seemed connected.”
He himself has long been interested in both the technical and creative. As a child, he filled a drawer with broken parts to use in inventions, and as an undergraduate he directed an improv group and sang.
He points out that problems rarely have straightforward, formulaic answers beyond homework assignments.“The answer is almost always, ‘It depends,’” he says. Therefore, the ability to think outside the box and “draw connections that aren’t always apparent, or even in the same domain, allows one to come up with [better] solutions.”
An additional benefit of the poetry slam was helping to connect underrepresented minorities with engineering and STEM. Traditionally, these fields have been presented in ways that are not relatable, Mabry says. If an engineer is shown as someone who spends all his time in a lab, quotes formulas and numbers, and never has fun or expresses himself, then “I’m not able to see myself in that world.”
Mabry didn’t at first, despite his childhood love of tinkering. It was the advice of his father—who had left an engineering program but returned when Mabry was in school and now works as a mechanical engineer—that led him to consider the field.
The EIT plans to take his PE exam this year, now that he’s finished his PhD in structural engineering and mechanics. He hopes to one day bring the practical experience he is gaining as a working engineer to academia.
In addition, he will continue his work with STEMedia, a company in which “technical intelligence meets creative genius.”
LEFT: NEHEMIAH MABRY, E.I.T., AND OTHERS LAUNCHED A STEM POETRY SLAM AT NC STATE. MIDDLE: STUDENTS PERFORM THEIR POEMS.
FAR RIGHT: MORGAN SANCHEZ’S POEM CENTERED ON HER ROLE AS A WOMAN AND MINORITY IN ENGINEERING.