Five Questions with Assistant Engineer Tia Clemens

January 15, 2019

Tia Clemens joined Olsson as a student intern in the fall of 2018 and was hired full-time upon graduating from Missouri State University (MSU). As a member of the firm’s Water Resources team in Springfield, Missouri, Tia’s greatest super power is knowing how to give people access to clean water.

Tia’s other super power is helping students gain life-changing knowledge. She and two classmates at MSU created STEMentors, an organization that focuses on tutoring K-12 students near Springfield in math and science. Tia is in the process of registering STEMentors as a nonprofit. While at MSU, Tia volunteered at several organizations, including Science Olympiad and Ozarks Food Harvest. She was named a 2018-19 Citizen Scholar at MSU for her philanthropical work.

We sat down with Tia to learn more about STEMentors, her work at Olsson, and why she believes giving back to her hometown community is important.

Why did you want to start a nonprofit organization that focuses on tutoring and mentoring students in STEM?

STEM scores are really low in Missouri, so we decided to help students by providing free tutoring and mentoring services and STEM presentations to K-12 students in the Springfield public schools. We focus on low-income students – that’s our first priority. Careers in STEM can be lucrative, so we want to encourage students to go into a STEM field to break out of that poverty cycle.

When I was a student at MSU, I volunteered at a couple of science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) nights at local schools and saw a real need. There were some schools that had a lot of parent involvement, but we saw many students who needed help but weren’t getting it. So, we decided to start something specifically for students who needed help and thought science and math weren’t that interesting. In addition to tutoring, we show practical applications…what you can do…what you learn from math and science.

We first started a student chapter at MSU for STEMentors, and we’re in the process of getting nonprofit status for the organization. We want to be able to recruit college students to be a volunteer force for Springfield Public Schools.

What is the most rewarding aspect on your work?

For me, I love working with the kids. They’re hilarious and I learn so much from them. One time I was showing a kindergarten class how to make edible concrete out of pudding and Oreos. Before we started, I asked the students to tell me what concrete was made of, and they all said ice cream! For me, the value is getting to hang out with the kids and present math and science in a different way and watching their eyes light up as they learn.

Why is it important to give back to the community?

To be honest, I was that kid we’re trying to reach. I thought I was terrible at math, I didn’t get it, and I didn’t like it. I also grew up in a low-income household. My mom worked 70 hours a week and I didn’t have extra help with my homework. I’ve been there, and I know what it’s like. I was able to bring myself out of poverty by getting an engineering degree, and I think it’s important to show students the possibilities of what an education in a STEM field can provide.

What was attractive about doing an internship at Olsson?

I was speaking with a professor at MSU and told him that I wanted to work in water and wastewater treatment design. He had me contact Jerry Jesky at Olsson, and Jerry and Nathan Meyer sat down with me and let me ask them about a billion questions about the firm and engineering in general and I really liked what I saw.

What made you stay at Olsson after your internship ended?

One of the things I discovered is that Olsson is super into the community and I love that. It’s a culture thing. And I think Olsson really cares about the same things I care about. The work I’m doing to get kids interested in STEM fields is important to me, and I feel I’m supported by the firm. This is exactly the type of place I want to work.

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