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USACE STEM Partnerships on the Rise

Needing the best and brightest

The success and prosperity of the United States in the 21st century will depend on the skills and ideas of its population. Critical among these skills in the coming decades are the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). In order for the nation to remain an innovative leader in an increasingly technological world, U.S. educators, industry, and government have stepped up efforts to inspire interest among primary and secondary students in STEM courses and careers. Given the nature of its mission areas, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is under way with this effort. USACE, and the country, will need top-notch workers in theses fields.

“Since we are very much a STEM organization, we try to make sure people understand what the Corps does, our legacy, and mission. America has grown up with the Corps, and we’re very proud of our history and all the areas in which we are involved. We try to get that across through marketing and recruitment efforts,” USACE Human Resources Director Sue Engelhardt said, adding that makes STEM education an obvious USACE priority. “Children must preserve the option to pursue a career in STEM fields, by the eighth grade, because of the hierarchical learning of mathematics.”

“The Corps, the Department of Defense, and the nation need to ensure there is a pipeline of students engaged in STEM and prepared for careers in engineering, natural sciences, and research and development,” said Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick, USACE commanding general. “Just six out of 100 current ninth-graders will go on to earn a STEM degree. We want young boys and girls to be excited about STEM, and we want that to start early – they need hands-on experience and the opportunity to learn firsthand from STEM professionals. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is ready to be an active part of helping solve our nation’s STEM challenge. …”

“With districts and divisions throughout the U.S. and overseas,” Engelhardt said, “we have outreach efforts at the grassroots level, with our team doing various programs with schools and ROTC, creating partnerships and important relationships with the academic admissions staff. Then we look to what we can utilize from the Army at large, from a funding standpoint. Several weeks ago we went to eCYBERMISSION, with Corps personnel volunteering as judges and student advisers. We also had displays showing these sixth- through ninth-graders what the Corps does. I was impressed when attending the awards ceremony how many of the student projects linked directly to Corps missions.”

But USACE – and the nation – will need time to see interest grow and real results from these efforts, according to Little Rock District civil engineering technician Ben Bremer.

Easy as Pi STEM event

Members from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Baltimore District partnered with the Society of American Military Engineers to coordinate “Easy as Pi,” a STEM event for more than 80 students from eight Maryland counties, April 9, 2013. The students had opportunities to dissect a squid with the National Aquarium, conduct forensic testing, compete to build the most powerful fan, and more. Easy as Pi is an event that began in 2008. USACE photo, Baltimore District

“Baby boomers grew up during a time of technological marvel [when] the United States was a world leader in innovation and industry. It was cool to be a rocket scientist or an automotive design engineer or a physicist. These types of jobs were in demand, high paying, and real tangible results were evident in everyday life,” Bremer said. “[From] the mid-1970s into the early 1990s, these trends started to change. Industry was moving overseas … science and technology fields became less inspiring, jobs more competitive, and the general ability to bring about great achievements became more complex and costly.

“It took the glory days of the Computer Age in the late 1990s and early 2000s before we as a nation realized we had lost the ‘science, technology, engineering, and mathematics’ interest of a whole generation of our youth to other fields of study. More than half of the engineers and scientists in our agency are over age 45 and are likely to retire by 2020. The labor pool of these types of professionals and graduates, while slightly rising, is still far below what it once was.”

“In 2009-10, we hired an incredible number of interns to make sure we are building the bench and continue to do that. We will hire 120 Army-funded interns this year and probably another 300 or more at the district level, working in many different STEM occupations,” USACE Human Resources Director Sue Engelhardt said. “I can’t say exactly what we will need in 10 or 20 years, but the fact we did not do as much hiring in the 1990s is catching up with us, creating a bathtub effect.”

The Army-sponsored eCYBERMISSION, created at the start of the century to help reverse that trend, is one of several STEM initiatives offered by the Army Educational Outreach Program. Administered by the National Science Teachers Association, the free online collaborative learning competition is designed to cultivate student interest in STEM by encouraging students in grades six through nine to develop solutions to real-world challenges. To that end, they form teams to compete for state, regional, and national awards, with projects designed to help solve problems in their own communities.

“The U.S. Army today requires Soldiers and personnel to be skilled and savvy in the STEM fields, so we have been committed to providing young people with innovative opportunities and competitions like eCYBERMISSION for over a decade,” said Brig. Gen. Daniel P. Hughes, deputy commanding general of the Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM). “These young people will be the future leaders of America’s health, environmental, security, and safety initiatives and we are extremely proud of this year’s national winning teams.”

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J.R. Wilson has been a full-time freelance writer, focusing primarily on aerospace, defense and high...