Students present park designs to L.A. Board of Public Works

From left are students Vivien Black, Zaniah Lewis and Mehrin Ashraf. At back is Steve Greene of – HNTB. (Courtesy Photo)

The Los Angeles Board of Public Works and HNTB Corporation culminated a productive school year partnership with the Los Angeles Unified School District’s first all-girls middle/high school, the Girls Academic Leadership Academy.

Student teams in the SPARK LA program presented original park designs to the Board of Public Works commissioners at a recent board meeting. Students also received certificates of completion and toured Los Angeles City Hall and city council chambers.

“I was so impressed by the creativity and the thought that went into each of the unique pocket park designs that were presented and encourage the girls to share them with their local council representatives,” said Public Works Commissioner Heather Repenning.

“Overall, this has been an incredibly innovative and beneficial program that actively engages middle-school students in hands-on activities with industry practitioners to generate excitement and interest to pursue STEM careers in the design, construction and engineering of public infrastructure projects.”

The collaborative SPARK LA partnership between the City of Los Angeles and HNTB supplements the new school’s focus on a STEM curriculum – science, technology, engineering and math – to attract more female students to pursue degrees and professions where females traditionally are underrepresented.

The park design module was the final of 16 interactive weekly sessions related to infrastructure. Other sessions included rail planning and design, aviation, tunneling, cost and schedule, water and bridges. Students designed airports, learned about transit, and explored engineering and design challenges alongside industry professionals. The team of practitioners who shared career information helped small teams of students develop the year-end parks projects to incorporate their learning from the 16 weekly sessions.

“The results of this collaboration have exceeded our expectations,” said Laura Mohr, PE, HNTB vice president, rail/transit group director and SPARK LA program leader. “The exposure to infrastructure through hands-on experience and involvement is an essential component to engaging and encouraging the next generation of female professionals. I look forward to having SPARK at GALA again next year.”

Since the school opened in August 2016, GALA’s extensive community and educational partnerships ensure that students have access to the latest information in STEM fields, leadership training and post-secondary preparation. The school welcomes all girls within the LAUSD who are committed to a highly rigorous, college preparatory curriculum focused on science, technology, engineering and math. By the 2019-20 school year, GALA plans to offer education for girls in grades 6-12.