‘Take Your Child to Work’ day expands young minds

SIGMADESIGN immerses youth in product design and engineering

Zoe Verzwyvelt, 5, plays with bubble wrap at the Camas headquarters of SIGMADESIGN, a product development and engineering firm, on April 25, for the company's fifth annual "Take Your Child to Work" event. Zoe's mom, Evelyn Verzwyvelt, is a software developer at SIGMADESIGN.

From left to right, Gavin Ragan, 17, and Grace Callaway, 16, listen to SIGMADESIGN systems engineer Anthony Gittins describe equipment that can make exact cuts -- in this case, for an April 25 "Take Your Child to Work" event, to cut an Oreo cookie into two equal halves.

SIGMADESIGN welder Ryan Zahniser (left) gives a welding demonstration to several SIGMADESIGN employees' children, including Parker Irvine, 9, (center) and Jameson Baerwaldt (right) on April 25.

SIGMADESIGN welder Ryan Zahniser (left) shows several elementary school aged children of SIGMADESIGN employees how his welding torch will cut through steel at the product design and engineering firm's Camas headquarters off Northwest Pacific Rim Boulevard on April 25 while his wife, Michelle (second from left) and 2-year-old daughter, Madi, look on.

For many working parents, the annual “Take Your Child to Work” day is a simple enough affair. Mom’s a police officer? Come ride in the patrol car and hang out at the station. Dad’s a nurse? Watch him gauge a patient’s blood pressure and learn how to use a stethoscope.

But for parents who work in sometimes highly guarded engineering or technology fields, taking a child to work can seem like a frustrating exercise.

As Andrea Cameron, marketing manager at SIGMADESIGN, a Camas based product design and engineering firm, recently put it: “How do you show your child what you do every day, when most of your work is blanketed in non-disclosure agreements?”

The folks who work at SIGMADESIGN have been answering that question since 2014 with a themed, all-day “Take Your Child to Work” event that brings dozens of Sigma employees’ children, ages 3 to 18, to the Camas headquarters and shows them every stage of the product-design process, from writing software code and welding to packaging and shipping.

At this year’s event, held April 25, more than 90 children of Sigma employees learned about prototyping, coding, design testing, manufacturing and motion-control systems — all through the journey of a cookie.

While 5 and 6 year olds tested cookie integrity with a vibration table, teenagers learned about 3D printing and worked with a Sigma systems engineer and some high-tech equipment to cut an Oreo cookie into two perfect halves.

“It just gets bigger and bigger each year,” Cameron said. “Bill (Huseby), our CEO, loves kids and gets really excited about this event. His own kids have been coming to this for years.”

One of the most popular stops at the April 25 event was inside welder-fabricator Ryan Zahniser’s shop area.

Here, children of all ages witnessed welding demonstrations and watched as Zahniser fired up his torch and lowered his safety helmet.

“It’s like the Fourth of July,” exclaimed one youngster as Zahniser’s welding torch burned through a piece of steel, showering the floor with a cascade of hot sparks. “It even smells like the Fourth of July.”

Nine-year-old Parker Irvine attended the April 25 event with his 3-year-old sister, Sadie, and said his mother and uncle work at SIGMADESIGN. Asked what his favorite part of the day was, Parker didn’t hesitate: “The welding. It’s awesome.”

And the children weren’t the only ones having fun on “Take Your Child to Work” day.

Zahniser’s wife, Michelle, brought the couple’s 2-year-old, Madi, to watch her dad at work, and it was clear that Ryan Zahniser was having a great time teaching the youngsters about welding and about how to stay safe around the equipment.

“When I was younger, I wanted to be a teacher, so I love doing this,” Zahniser said of leading the all-day welding demonstrations. “It’s really fun for me, too.”