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THE PICTURE: Stimulating STEM Futures

November 28, 2021

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On Koch’s main campus in Wichita, Kansas, there’s a small lab where as many as 20 scientists and engineers work every day, applying science to solve challenges and develop new innovations for the benefit of Koch companies – and society. For Bill Morris, director of the Flint Hills Resources lab, it’s as much work as it is play.

“We come to work and we play,” he says with a smile. “We play in that space between research and development and commercial. This is how we create value. We offer a mutual benefit to the rest of Koch Industries, so we have specialized talent.”

Elephant toothpaste experiment

Melissa Scheffler (right), host of The Picture, and Carrie Chambers (left), project chemist at the FHR Technical Center, demonstrate a science experiment inside the FHR lab.

According to Bill, there are roughly a dozen different companies that utilize his team’s services, leveraging their subject matter expertise, conducting experiments and even performing pilot plant studies. Some of his team’s most recent work has been in the space of renewable fuels, working to bring plastics to fuel. But for Bill, the work they’re doing is bigger than what’s good for business.

“I truly believe in the MBM® (Market-Based Management®) philosophy that we have an obligation not only to provide value to the company where we can, but we also have an obligation to provide value to the community and to society.”

FHR STEM Lab

A team member at the FHR Technical Center gives Melissa a behind-the-scenes look at how the lab conducts research and experiments to support various Koch companies.

True to that belief, the lab will open its doors to local schools and educational programs wanting to provide students a behind-the-scenes look at a real working laboratory. For Marquetta Atkins, founder and director of Camp Destination Innovation, a Wichita-based program that exposes marginalized youth to career fields outside traditional norms, it’s a chance to show kids what they’re capable of pursuing.

Camp Destination Innovation

Marquetta Atkins, director of Camp Destination Innovation, shares how the FHR Technical Center opened its doors, giving Wichita youth an up-close look at a working lab, as well as different STEM careers and experiments.

“What young people do not realize, when it comes to science, STEM and creating things, that there is nothing that is too extreme,” she says. “There is nothing that should have limits. And so these little thoughts that you have in your head, what society might say you cannot do, science and technology teaches you the impossible is possible.” 

Creating STEM opportunities for kids goes well beyond the FHR lab, though. For several years now, Koch Industries has sponsored classroom grants for local schools demonstrating a need for STEM support. In past years, funds have been used to create a sensory garden, build an aquaponics system and help a local middle school buy equipment needed to compete in robotics competitions.  

Outside the classroom, Koch employees have also volunteered time and provided mentorship to help Wichita youth interested in STEM-related areas of study. This support has included leading students through science experiments at the Boys and Girls Club and sponsoring booths and activities at science fairs and festivals, like STEAM City at Wichita’ Riverfest celebration and the annual Society of Women Engineers Engineering Expo.

Koch also sponsors the Young Visioneer award at Invention Convention Worldwide’s national invention competition, recognizing some of the most innovative thinking from young inventors across the country. In past years, Young Visioneers have even been invited to Koch companies to pitch their ideas and receive feedback on their inventions from their Koch mentors. 

 

See more about Koch’s commitment to STEM initiatives and education in this episode of The Picture, a Koch Industries Spotlight Series telling inspirational stories from Koch’s hometown, Wichita, Kansas. All episodes are available to watch at KochICT.com.