The Science Museum of Minnesota on Thursday declared 2018 the “Year of the Engineer,” kicking off a series of exhibits and events aimed at nudging students toward careers in science, technology, engineering and math — collectively referred to as STEM.

Employers across the state are struggling to find qualified applicants for jobs in these areas, and the Science Museum is teaming up with a handful of these companies to show kids the STEM fields aren’t as dry as they might imagine, said Alison Brown, the museum’s CEO.

“Our goal is for everyone to understand that engineering is fun,” Brown said. “We need people to be trained in these areas and to see themselves in these careers.”

Hoping to reach 1 million people through the yearlong initiative, the Science Museum plans to combine exhibits and programs at its headquarters in downtown St. Paul with outreach to schools in all of Minnesota’s 87 counties, Brown said.

The first of these exhibits is already open at the museum. The 3,500-square-foot Cardboard Engineering Gallery allows visitors to build anything from mazes to rocket ships out of cardboard, according to the museum’s website. It is open through March 15.

In coming months, the Science Museum’s IMAX theater will also begin public showings of “Dream Big: Engineering Our World,” a film that introduces viewers to four engineers and offers an up-close look at their work, the website says.

For the initiative’s sponsors like 3M, which contributed $750,000 to the “Year of the Engineer,” the museum’s programming is an opportunity to lay groundwork for recruiting its future workforce.

“As a company of engineers, its extremely relevant for us to partner (with the museum) in this way,” said Michael Stroik, director of 3Mgives. “STEM skills are becoming integral to thriving in today’s economy.”

And while the Twin Cities are home to many science and technology companies, they have had a difficult time attracting the workforce necessary to sustain these firms, Brown said.

“Obviously, we’re not going to close that gap in a year,” she said. “But this will end up being a longer term initiative for us.”

In addition to 3M, the founding sponsors of the “Year of the Engineer” include Comcast, Flint Hills Resources, H.B. Fuller, Barr Engineering, Bio-Techne and Ultig.

More information about the “Year of the Engineer” can be found on the Science Museum’s website at smm.org.

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