Most grade school classrooms are a bustling place with active, young minds as they learn language arts, math, and social studies. But Ms. Olsen and Ms. Niel’s fourth-grade classes at Simpson Elementary School in Montesano had a special visitor last week for a portion of their morning: John Romero. John, one of WSDOT’s project engineers out of our Aberdeen office, talked to the kids about the importance of fish passage and how they pertain to state highway projects.

Simpson Elementary, located in a rural area of western Washington along US 12 heading towards Aberdeen and the Pacific Ocean, has seen a decent amount of construction along their major east-west highway this year, most noticeably a $17.2 million fish barrier removal project in McCleary.

Crews are replacing outdated culverts under State Route 8 to improve fish passage for Middle and East Forks Wildcat Creek and replacing them with four new bridges, slowing down the streams at the culvert sites and making it easier for fish to traverse. Romero told the classes about the work that has occurred, what is still to come and why it’s important.

“It’s imperative that our work today shares a story with the next generation of drivers, future engineers, construction workers and community leaders,” John said.

John also talked about the importance of a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education. He encouraged the classrooms of about 20 students each to consider pursuing STEM fields, as he did in preparing to join our agency 24 years ago. Showing the students examples of STEM at work – like on fish passage projects – gives them clear examples of those skills at work.

The new 160-foot-long bridge over the East Fork of Wildcat Creek in McCleary.

In particular, John encouraged the girls in the class to think about careers in fields that traditionally have been male-dominated, such as engineering and construction. We have women in some of the highest roles in our agency, something we’re particularly proud of.

John told the classes that his team has more female engineers than males, sparking many of the girls in the class to ask questions.

Crews place bridge girders last month, marking a major milestone in the project. Each girder took approximately 15 minutes to place from cranes stationed in live traffic lanes of SR 8.

“In this day and age, I think it’s equally important to celebrate the roles of women in the workplace while serving the diverse populations we represent,” John said.