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Enbridge connects with fifth graders

Enbridge engineer Brent Eliason explains how to operate a tabletop model of a pipeline to fifth graders Isaiah Essien, Lucia Fedyn and Nevaeh Lammi during a presentation at Northern Lights Elementary School April 8. (Maria Lockwood / mlockwood@superiortelegram.com)

For the second year in a row, Enbridge employees visited Northern Lights Elementary School to focus on energy. They tossed a football, directed water through a series of pipes and pulled plastic-based items out of totes.

"We learned that a lot of our daily things are made from oil," said fifth grader Riley Brett.

The April 8 presentation was more than a science connection.

"Our goal is to make students more aware of all of the products containing petroleum, introduce students to jobs available to northlanders as a result of this big business, and inform students of progressive thinking within the company," said fifth grade teacher Stacy Burfield. "We try hard to make local connections within our community so students are more aware of what is happening in their hometown and relate that to what they are learning about in school. We want to prepare students to think critically as they grow to become adults and are faced with energy questions."

Last year’s presentation left a mark, said fifth grade teacher James Malyuk. He recalled students starting to ask questions and point out products that come from petroleum following Enbridge’s visit.

"So you see them transferring that knowledge over," Malyuk said. "And as a teacher, that’s what you want. You want to see them apply all of their learning into everyday life."

A model pipeline, built by engineers Brent Eliason and James Lawson specifically for last year’s school program, was a big hit. This year’s improved model boasted new tanks, logos and an upgraded power supply.

"This thing is basically self-sustaining now," Lawson said.

The tabletop pipeline has been making the rounds. Enbridge brought it to the Northland Kids Expo, Mighty Machines event and this spring’s University of Wisconsin-Superior Science Fair .

"It’s gotten a lot more miles on it this year," Eliason said.

The engineers enjoyed watching the Northern Lights fifth graders power up the pipeline with a mixture of nerves and excitement, directing classmates to turn valves on and off. At times, water nearly spilled out of a tank.

"It kind of drives it home, it’s not easy to run a pipeline," Eliason said. "It takes some skill."

The employees enjoyed the outreach. Eliason said the best part of working with the students was "seeing them smile and knowing that you connected with them."

One of the most surprising connections, for the students at least, was learning that Eliason and Malyuk went to school together and were friends.

"You want them to remember all the petroleum stuff, but they generally remind me that, ‘Oh, you went to school with your friend,’" Malyuk said.

It gave students a glimpse of future career options. Many raised their hands before the presentation when asked if they know someone who works at Enbridge.

"It kind of puts it into perspective that hey, you can stay in Superior, you can go to school here," Eliason said. "We’re community based. And they can relate to it."

Teachers were impressed with the presentation, which included a chance to hold a gas monitor and see the difference between bottles of light and heavy crude oil.

"It’s awesome to have Enbridge come do this," Malyuk said. "They do a fantastic job working with the kids."

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