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Saturday, December 16 2017 @ 12:39 PM CST

Investing in the Next Generation of STEM Leaders

Canvassing for the nation’s future engineering talent starts through community outreach programs, and the district seized the opportunity to showcase a variety of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers missions to approximately 160 engineering students at Jenkins High School in Savannah.


 

Regulatory Division members demonstrate their flood plains model at Jenkins High School for National Engineers Week Feb. 25. The district partners with the school’s engineering academy to foster interest in the science, technology, engineering, and math fields, also called STEM. (USACE Photo by Chelsea Smith)

Regulatory Division members demonstrate their flood plains model at Jenkins High School for National Engineers Week Feb. 25. The district partners with the school’s engineering academy to foster interest in the science, technology, engineering, and math fields, also called STEM. (USACE Photo by Chelsea Smith)

Corps volunteers participated as part of National Engineers Week, held Feb. 22-28, intended to promote technical education and the pursuit of engineering careers to create a diverse and robust engineering workforce.

The district partners with the school’s engineering academy to foster interest in the science, technology, engineering and math fields, also called STEM. This year, students encountered Corps employees holding degrees in a variety of scientific and engineering disciplines. The sample of professions represented a microcosm of the entire workforce whose individual efforts contribute to the Corps’ overall mission.

Students scribbled notes while rotating through four stations. Small groups learned about environmental missions at Corps dam and lake projects, safe ammunition disposal, environmental uses of wetlands and dredging operations occurring in the Savannah Harbor and surrounding areas.

“Some of the tasks the Corps does are relatively unique and require an engineering or scientific background,” said Ed Krolikowski, deputy chief of engineering. “Outreach helps to inspire the children so they can see and understand what we do and aspire to follow in our career paths.”

The Corps’ participation contributed to the academy’s overall mission to expose students to industry professionals and discover how coursework concepts have real-world applications, said Krolikowski.

“It’s beneficial for the students because they hear first-hand accounts from engineers working in the industry,” said Tom Maty, Jenkins High School engineering teacher. “It also reinforces what they learn in the classroom.”

Besides National E-Week, the Corps remains actively involved in promoting STEM careers throughout the year. The Corps supports other STEM-related events at the school, such as Energy Week, typically held in October. They also provide volunteers to serve on judging panels for projects completed by students at Jenkins and other local schools, said Krolikowski.

The close relationship between the Corps and Jenkins High School requires Krolikowski to keep the program fresh, he said. This year, he recruited an assorted group of volunteers who work on separate, often unrelated projects from all corners of the district.

Joseph Melton, natural resource program manager and a second-year participate, used his booth to display wildlife specimens found at Corps-operated sites such as turkey feathers, snake skins and various animal skulls.

Savannah District Corps of Engineers employees showcase a variety of Corps missions Feb. 25 to engineering students at Jenkins High School in Savannah, Ga. (USACE photo by Chelsea Smith)

Savannah District Corps of Engineers employees showcase a variety of Corps missions Feb. 25 to engineering students at Jenkins High School in Savannah, Ga. (USACE photo by Chelsea Smith)

“The kids may not know all of the components of science and engineering,” he said. “A lot of the engineering involves an understanding of our natural resources. I’m here to let them know that it’s not just concrete and steel, but it’s also water and wood.”

Kevin Haborak, a geophysicist, and Hank Counts, an explosive ordnance technician, manned an explosive ordnance disposal display lined with inert ammunition, ranging from rifle grenades to slugs and fuses.

“EOD is an area that the students may not consider to be an engineering field but definitely needs engineers in it,” said Haborak.

Additionally, Regulatory Division members used a flood plain model to demonstrate how wetlands protect the environment. Civil engineer Stan Simpson educated students on dredging operations by discussing the recent renourishment project on Tybee Island beach.

Competing in a global market

Krolikowski said he works to differentiate the Corps from private industries and smaller organizations by using outreach to convey the Corps’ expansive scope of work.

“We have projects throughout the Southeast that may include building barracks on military installations to civil works projects like operating locks and dams,” he said. “As a large entity, there are a great number of options and positions we need to fill.”

Though February is typically a busy month, Krolikowski emphasizes that there’s an impetus to support STEM events. With greater global competition for elite talent in the engineering and scientific fields, the Corps prioritizes STEM outreach to target students from approximately grades three to 12. Through targeted outreach, the Corps aims to attract its next generation of talent.

Helping to sustain interests in the heavily demanded fields of STEM is a strategic pursuit that not only provides students opportunities, but reaps economic benefits for future generations, said Krolikowski.

“When we have people who can invent more efficient processes or products, the nation is going to benefit through increased jobs and economic stability,” he said. “If we’re not spending our effort on promoting engineering and technology, the nation is going to have to rely on foreign services and projects, and that hurts us economically and strategically.”

Determining whether STEM outreach produces dividends for the district remains in the future. The awareness campaign has – at the very least – provided students with contacts to the district, said Krolikowski.

“I try to emphasize the advantage they have by attending an engineering academy,” he said. “Once students transition into the workforce, they can refer back to their experiences with the Corps when they start their job search.”

Story and information provided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah District

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