NJMEP program uses cardboard to show importance of STEM, manufacturing

NJBIZ STAFF//August 19, 2019

NJMEP program uses cardboard to show importance of STEM, manufacturing

NJBIZ STAFF//August 19, 2019

At the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program, cardboard is typically used for packaging, but there are other innovative ways to use the material.

For the past four years, The Team Eagle Foundation’s LEDR Program has been challenging young adults to build and navigate canoes made entirely of corrugated cardboard, giving employees and NJMEP volunteers a chance to participate in an exercise that is both hands-on and requires teamwork.

The LEDR Program is a young adult mentoring effort that offers a week-long retreat, designed to give students a chance to explore career and educational opportunities. This year, the camp effort was hosted at Camp Winnebago in Rockaway for 15- to 20-year-old boys and girls the week of Aug. 12.


Students and staff mentors followed two rules to guide construction: to use only corrugated cardboard and duct tape, and to have fun.

The challenge was divided into three phases: design, construction and launch. The canoe building project was created to teach students the basics of the design process before they start a major research project.

“These students are driven. They’re going to go places,” NJMEP Chief Executive Officer John Kennedy, and founding director of The LEDR Program, said in a press release. “They just need some encouragement.”

“When they first start working on the project, they struggle,” Kennedy says. “They don’t know what they’re going to do. Then they see that it’s a process and that they just have to take the first step. Once they’re engaged in the process, the dominos start to fall.”

Kennedy designed the cardboard-boat race to help students think about STEM and manufacturing, in a way they could not only understand, but that might excite them and pique their imaginations.

These collaborations, NJMEP said, provide the students with valuable professional interactions and career skills, along with a real-life glimpse into a future career.