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STEM Education

Through a new one-of-a-kind partnership, USACE hopes to inspire a new generation of American scientists and engineers.

 

Humanity confronts some of its greatest historical challenges today: securing enough food and clean water for billions; responding to climate change; developing new sources of energy; protecting the natural world from further harm; and repairing and rebuilding the infrastructures that support and enable civilization.

Thirty years ago, anyone would have guessed the engineers to solve these problems would come from the nation that built the Panama Canal, assembled the first nuclear reactor, and sent men a quarter of a million miles into space to walk on the moon. But much has changed since the 1980s, when the United States led the world in the percentage of college graduates with degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM); today, that U.S. percentage is among the lowest in the developed world.

STEM instruction will help students, by introducing them to some of USACE’s most enthusiastic and disciplined engineers and scientists, to see what it’s like to be a committed professional, dedicated to making a difference.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is a diverse community of 33,700 technical professionals and support staff, including engineers, mathematicians, biologists, cartographers, environmental engineers, geologists, and construction managers – all of whom understand that the nation’s security, and its status as an economic and technical world leader, depend on its ability to reawaken a passion for problem-solving among American students.

In May 2013, USACE launched a unique partnership with the Department of Defense Education Activity (DODEA), the civilian agency that administers the schools for military children and teenagers in the United States and at overseas defense installations. The STEM education program launched by the partnership brings the knowledge and passion of USACE professionals – military and civilian engineers and scientists – into DODEA classrooms, in activities tied to the existing curriculum.

USACE volunteers visited Scott Middle School in Fort Knox, Kentucky, as a part of the STEM education effort. Students built models that would be tested in a wind tunnel to demonstrate how wind affects building design. Here, seventh-grade science student Kaylon Luster explains the design approach for his hurricane-proof structure to Brittney Hyde, USACE Louisville District. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo by Eric Cheng

USACE volunteers visited Scott Middle School in Fort Knox, Kentucky, as a part of the STEM education effort. Students built models that would be tested in a wind tunnel to demonstrate how wind affects building design. Here, seventh-grade science student Kaylon Luster explains the design approach for his hurricane-proof structure to Brittney Hyde, USACE Louisville District. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo by Eric Cheng

The USACE/DODEA partnership has three basic objectives:

  1. establishing a focused and sustainable long-term STEM partnership in communities where USACE and DODEA are co-located;
  2. increasing student awareness and interest in STEM activities and careers; and
  3. increasing student awareness, in particular, of the need for STEM professionals to help fulfill both USACE’s missions and the future needs of the nation.

The Pilot Schools – and Beyond

The overall curriculum for the STEM education pilot, a unit on natural hazards and disasters, was hammered out by scientists and educators at DODEA Headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, and designed to dovetail with existing curriculum standards – but program designers were careful to allow for the flexibility to connect students and teachers with real-world STEM applications related to USACE work in their own communities.

The program was kicked off during National Engineers Week – Feb. 16-22, 2014 – and during the spring semester was conducted at seven pilot schools at Army installations in the United States, Germany, Japan, and South Korea, where USACE volunteers visit classrooms twice a week to participate in a six-week course of instruction. At Scott Middle School in Fort Knox, Kentucky, for example, students who had recently completed a unit about weather worked with USACE volunteers to design an economical structure that could withstand high winds.

In the program’s initial phase, USACE is making resources, such as the program curriculum and handbook, available on USACE’s website to any educator who wants to make use of them; the program is likely to broaden in the future, both throughout different grade levels and at other U.S. schools, military and public, accessible to USACE volunteers.

Louisville District structural engineer Mercedes Hughes (left) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Commander Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick visit students April 10, 2014, at Scott Middle School to view the progress of the USACE STEM education program. Photo by Debra Hunter

Louisville District structural engineer Mercedes Hughes (left) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Commander Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick visit students April 10, 2014, at Scott Middle School to view the progress of the USACE STEM education program. Photo by Debra Hunter

By the end of next year, in fact, USACE and DODEA plan to have USACE volunteers helping implement STEM education at every school where the two partners are co-located – helping students to understand how STEM is omnipresent, applied every day in the wider world, and also crucial to the health and wealth of the nation. STEM instruction will help students, by introducing them to some of USACE’s most enthusiastic and disciplined engineers and scientists, to see what it’s like to be a committed professional, dedicated to making a difference.

This article first appeared in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: Building Strong®, Serving the Nation and the Armed Forces 2014-2015 Edition.

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Craig Collins is a veteran freelance writer and a regular Faircount Media Group contributor who...