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Posted 2/14/2013

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By Jean Pavlov

A desire to motivate students to pursue engineering degrees and jobs ten years ago by a handful of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District engineers and other young professionals resulted in what has become an annual high school competition on Engineering Career Day.


These enterprising engineers from several different disciplines within the Corps came up with a plan to make students aware of a possible future in the fields of science, engineering, math and technology via a take home construction competition.

The first event, in 2003, included a day of hands-on competitions, one-on-one interaction with engineers, a luncheon and a keynote speaker.  The Jacksonville Post of the Society of American Military Engineers co-sponsored the event and Jacksonville District volunteers helped to make it happen.

“As we progressed, we realized that using a hands-on approach to learning about engineering excited the students and motivated them to explore these possible career paths,” said Tim Gysan, one of the early organizers of the event.  Gysan, Mike Presley, Steve Duba, Stacey Roth and Melissa Reynolds were all on the original planning team. 

By bringing so many facets of engineering together at one time, students were able to talk to engineers about their jobs, to universities about degree programs and to company representatives about future jobs.  Gysan said he was amazed at how quickly the students gained interest in engineering as a viable career choice.

The planning team decided to assign participating high school teams a detailed take home project they could work on prior to the event. Each high school’s project was then judged and the best one awarded the James L. Garland Award for Engineering Excellence, a trophy named for a former Jacksonville District Engineering Division chief. The trophy, which is the top prize, is passed on each year to the winning school.

One project called for demonstrating the behavior of a bridge subjected to catastrophic loads and show the life cycle cost of the project. Each team designed and built a model wood bridge that was placed in a wave tank and subjected to simulated loads and storms of progressively larger impact. The bridges were evaluated based on the load requirements, material costs, labor costs and replacement costs.

This year’s event has grown to include Bishop Kenny High School, Christ’s Church Academy, Eagles View High School, Englewood High School, Fernandina Beach High School, First Coast High School, Frank H. Peterson Academies of Technology, Robert E. Lee High School, Yulee High School, Fletcher High School, Providence High School, Orange Park High School, Clay High School and Trinity Christian Academy.  More than 50 teams have signed up, with many schools represented by multiple teams.

This year’s take home project is to design a bridge using computer-aided West Point Bridge Designer 2012 software and constructing a model for support testing.

While take home projects are being judged, teams complete a spontaneous, time-sensitive,project.

“I think early exposure to these science-based occupations is imperative,” said Gysan, who added that the first couple of years only seniors were invited to participate, until they learned of interest from younger students.

“Career day allows students an opportunity to meet with various professionals in the community at an earlier point in their lives and really explore higher education opportunities and potential career paths,” said Steve Duba, chief of Construction Division. 

Duba said the employees who first volunteered for this event are still doing so, an indicator of the program’s success and popularity.

 “[The volunteers] get satisfaction out of seeing these kids really get into science and engineering and about wanting to learn.  It’s rewarding to see year after year and it really gives you hope for mankind,” Duba said.

 The 2013 Engineering Career Day takes place Feb. 22 beginning at 8:30 a.m.at the Jacksonville District headquarters, 701 San Marco Blvd.  Keynote speaker will be Eric Bush, chief of the Planning and Policy Division.  This year’s theme is “Future Connections.”  Students will focus on projects that incorporate several different engineering disciplines.

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