The time I went to Party with Engineers

By Sai Mornapalli Suresh posted 02-16-2018 14:13


It is not very often that you get an opportunity to collaborate on an enterprise wide initiative that excites and empowers engineering students; but when you do, you embark on a journey of learning and exponential personal growth. The premise of this article is to explore my theory of the 5 C’s process (Concept, Content, Collaboration, Communication and Continuity) and the insights that I gained while working on Engineering Festivals, E-Fests for short.

In North America alone, there are over 170K engineering students with an alarmingly large drop-out rate of over 50%. Studies show that students start out motivated, but either drop out due to a feeling of inadequacy or due to a fall in motivation levels. At ASME we were attempting to reach these students, retain, motivate, train and show them how to party like an engineer!

Beginning fall of last year, a compelling Concept that leveraged and showcased ingenuity, creativity and innovativeness of engineering students, was conceived at ASME – E-Fests; a three day, two night engineering festival that combined established student competitions, TED style talks, career briefs and mentoring, leadership and professional workshops and a whole lot of networking. ASME Volunteers and Staff from different walks of the organization came together to help execute year one of this concept. Given my unique combination of bachelors in engineering and masters in finance, I was given the opportunity to be the Finance and Project Management lead responsible for building the financial model, on this ever growing team. Together we hashed the details of the event including questions like what does party like an engineer mean, how many of these events/parties do we hold, how frequently should they be held, how global must we become, and most importantly how much could we afford to invest for the successful implementation of year one. In pulling that concept together, we approached it using reason, and yet sometimes got carried away.   

While Concept laid the foundation, Content was our brick. The team spent countless hours curating the content and debating nuances from the duration of the TED talks to their timing within the program. We had one task at hand – to engage our student members, and I learnt that in order to attract them, content was key. Content had to be interactive and thought provoking, but most importantly content had to underscore the importance of engineering’s impact on the world in a “un-conference” like manner. Staff and Volunteers co- created the content and scouted for speakers. Together, we triggered new networks of speakers and worked towards fashioning creative and some never-before-tried ideas for competitions and talks. I sat through taped versions of TED talks, listening to speakers that inspired and speakers that taught, wondering all the time if a budding engineer would feel inspired like I did. While ASME staff sought out sponsorships, our sponsors crafted parts of our content – we benefitted mutually.

When you are dealing with team members that are from different parts of the country and sometimes even world, Collaboration and Communication can be fundamental to the success of the event. We had to build a support system with a multiple way communication street as it was required to deal with cross functional groups and innumerable personalities. Staff, Volunteers, University Hosts and Sponsors engaged on a regular basis to implement the event. While the Host University and ASME staff worked on the logistics and onsite experience, the volunteers being subject matter experts ensured that the competition elements were well executed. It was imperative that we had our ears to the ground listening to suggestions and insights from Sponsors, Volunteers and Hosts. Not always were kind words spoken, but isn’t that what a team is – pull with the push? 

We set out to reach and increase our student member base, to partner with engineering universities and gain intel on the needs of their students and to build our brand and leverage relationships with industry leaders. We succeeded and even exceeded on key metrics in our learning year with better sponsor relationships, greater student outreach - over 2500 registrants from 15 countries and 45 US states and improved university relations (attendees spanning over 72 universities). Now that we have completed year one successfully, we have the daunting task of guaranteeing Continuity. How do we ensure that we have a well-oiled machine that will run its course for years to come? How much bigger should our outreach to students and sponsors be? How must we plan in order to sustain – should we template-ize our product or must we experiment each time? Above all, how do we continue to have fun along the way? My idea, however, is a happy medium – themed experiences that are structurally template –ized to stimulate and support students while promising familiarity. This is after all the E-Fests where experience is as important as each structural element; where students come just to party like an engineer.

Looking back at the moments that were spent in planning and conceptualizing E-Fest, I will take the liberty to propose a theory nay common sense: Any new product or service that is intended for consumption must combine the use of the 5 C’s – Concept, Content, Collaboration, Communication and Continuity, without which you cannot guarantee a competitive product and that is precisely the path I traversed the past year while working on the E-Fests.