Visitors to the Science Museum of Minnesota on Thursday could build a two-wheeled car out of cardboard and see how far it went. Call it a "Pinewood Derby with cardboard," said museum spokeswoman Kin Ramsden in a nod to the Cub Scouts' long tradition.

The activity, of course, has an educational component: to encourage students to explore careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), said Alison Brown, president and CEO of the museum in downtown St. Paul.

"They don't think of these as sexy careers," she said. "They think of people sitting in a room crunching numbers, but really they are problem solvers, solving problems facing society and communities all over the world."

In its quest to inspire the next generation about the power of engineering, the museum Thursday launched an ambitious slate of events to provide engineering-related opportunities for people in all 87 counties in the state. The museum has declared 2018 as the "Year of the Engineer" and Gov. Mark Dayton proclaimed Thursday as kickoff day.

Over the past decade, the number of jobs in STEM fields has grown three times as fast as those in non-STEM fields. Scientific and technical occupations in areas such as agriculture, road construction and medical professions are projected to increase 33 percent in the next decade, and 18 of the 20 fastest-growing occupations will be tied to STEM disciplines, Brown said.

She said there is a great need in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) industry. Showing students how they can dramatically improve the environment "might be a way to get them into the HVAC industry."

Thursday's activities also included a sneak preview of "Dream Big: Engineering Our World," an IMAX film that will debut in March. Upcoming exhibits include "Towers of Tomorrow with LEGO Bricks," featuring replicas of 20 of the world's most astonishing skyscrapers and an opportunity for visitors to build their own. There will be an interactive exhibit on biomechanics called "The Machine Inside."

The museum also will take its programs on the road to train schoolteachers and provide hands-on lessons for students, particularly girls, students of color and those from low-income households who are under-represented in STEM careers, Brown said.

"We have a lot of talent in the Twin Cities, but we don't see them in those fields," she said. "We hope to develop that talent so they can be in those careers."