Defense Media Network

USACE STEM Partnerships on the Rise

Needing the best and brightest

POD’s effort in education was furthered in March 2013 with an agreement between USACE and DoDDS-Korea, formally establishing Far East District’s volunteer efforts for the school district’s STEM initiative. Maj. Gen. Kendall P. Cox, USACE deputy commanding general for military and international operations, signed the STEM Education Partnership Agreement, emphasizing his role as an engineer officer is to ensure there will always be an abundance of future engineers.

The bottom line, Bostick told the students in Germany, is the importance – to USACE and the nation – of increasing the number of U.S. engineers.

“We are going to provide you with the assistance and the support you need to gain that passion – to gain that desire – to want to be someone that’s involved in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics,” Cox told teachers and students in the American school in South Korea.

That passion already has been seen in districts throughout POD.

Greg Schmidt, deputy chief of Alaska District’s Engineering Division, developed an Engineering Merit Badge for the American Heritage Girls national organization, with hundreds of girls earning the badge.

Honolulu District employees host or participate in a variety of outreach activities, from middle school through the university level.

Japan District Engineering Branch sponsors the West Point Bridge Design Contest, in which students create a design to carry a specific vehicle load, at the lowest cost.

“USACE recognizes the critical role that STEM fields play in enabling the U.S. to remain competitive in the global marketplace and to keep our nation secure,” POD Deputy Commander Col. Gregory J. Gunter said. “Our team is committed to STEM outreach and eCYBERMISSION provided volunteers the flexibility of sharing their time and expertise online at their own convenience.”

One innovative approach to enhancing student interest in STEM is the use of videoconferencing to add value to the classroom. In December 2012, Europe District Project Manager Jason Cade, a mining engineer, and his colleagues used face-to-face videoconferencing to teach a lesson on roller coaster engineering to DoDDS students at Wiesbaden Middle School in Germany.

“We bring real life to the classroom,” Cade said. “Folks in this building have the credentials to talk about things teachers only deal with on a theoretical basis.”

Bostick and biology class

Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick, USACE commanding general, meets with students and faculty May 14, 2013, at Patch High School in Stuttgart, Germany. He discussed the importance of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics with students in an advanced-placement biology class. The students were dissecting small sharks. USACE photo by Brian Temple

School principal Susan Hargis agreed, saying distance learning is “the perfect venue for engineers to teach and inspire,” enabling district STEM professionals to interact with students not only in Wiesbaden, but around the world.

Wiesbaden High School was the venue for a career day presentation by Maj. David Dake, Europe District’s project engineer, who answered questions about his education, professional experience as an Army engineer, and the wide range of STEM-related careers at USACE.

“If we offer students the chance to branch out from standard classes – algebra, biology, geometry – and give them more choices, we will start to see improvement in the ability of our youth to excel in STEM-related areas,” Dake said.

Engelhardt said USACE has the stability to survive current fiscal uncertainties, including attracting new people.

“But once we attract them, we need to make sure they stay. When you go through fiscal uncertainty, it is even more important to develop those people and keep the best and the brightest. But we also are in competition with everybody else, so we need a really talented pool to pull from, which is why the Corps is doing everything possible to build that pool, not just for us, but for the nation as a whole,” she said. “The compelling thing has to be encouraging students at an early age that this is what they want to do.

“When I was growing up, you didn’t hear a lot about female engineers. That has changed a lot. We know we must get students interested by the eighth grade, so that they can preserve the option to choose a career in STEM, and we need to reach out to the underrepresented groups – girls, African-American, and Latino students. From a retirement standpoint – and retirements have been increasing – the workload/workforce balance includes bringing people in at the entry level, not just those with existing skills.”

“Through the partnerships and community interaction,” Bostick said, “USACE hopes to develop STEM talent and strengthen STEM-related programs that inspire young people to pursue career fields needed to tackle the challenges of today and the future.”

Wright shares the basic USACE view that getting children excited about STEM early will make a big difference at the end of the pipeline in the future.

“It is working, but it will take us awhile – especially with the demand for STEM jobs increasing faster than we can graduate new scientists and engineers. We’re also being hurt by budget cuts and furloughs,” she said. “We need bright new scientists and engineers. It’s hard for us to compete with industry in hiring those with master’s and Ph.D.s, but we can hire those with bachelor’s.

“The human capital initiative grew out of the realization we needed to do STEM outreach and take care of those we hire to increase retention. When [those encouraged by Corps efforts] graduate, they will be well informed about the importance of STEM to the future of the U.S., even if they don’t come to work for the Corps. It is amazing, in a sad way, how little our citizens know about STEM, despite using its results every day. Hopefully the new generation of students will become more interested in what makes things tick and why it is important.”

The bottom line, Bostick told the students in Germany, is the importance – to USACE and the nation – of increasing the number of U.S. engineers.

“Those who might have a proclivity and interest in studying engineering should pursue that, because the country needs them. In order for us to be the leaders in this in the future, it’s going to take the communities to rally around those who wish to study. Communities can help by encouraging young men and women from every walk of life, every background, who have an interest and ability to study STEM to pursue those dreams,” he said.

“Through the partnerships and community interaction, USACE hopes to develop STEM talent and strengthen STEM-related programs that inspire young people to pursue career fields needed to tackle the challenges of today and the future.”

This article first appeared in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: Building Strong®, Serving the Nation and the Armed Forces 2013-2014 Edition.

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