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Posted 8/12/2013

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By Nakeir Nobles

In an effort to pique the interest of middle school students toward science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines, Jacksonville District partnered with Mentoring Families and Kids, Inc., (MFK) at the Second Annual STEM Camp, held at the University of North Florida, June 28.

Tim Brown, senior project manager in the Military/International and Interagency Services Branch, had an instrumental role in organizing participating district team members, who used personal leave to volunteer at the event. More than 250 students attended the one-day camp, which featured a water tower design challenge and the construction of a rubber band car.

With a noticeable decrease of students graduating with STEM degrees, Brown thought working with the local organization on its event would serve a two-fold purpose: increase STEM awareness of middle school students and promoting Corps brand recognition in the minds of young people.

Providing encouragement and educational support that engages students, Mentoring Families and Kids, Inc. was founded in 2005 and focuses on educational support for underrepresented students in kindergarten through grade 12. Brown said he chose to work with the small agency because it’s young and does a lot of good in the Jacksonville community.

“Most importantly, they could really use the help,” said Brown.

Murika Davis, civil engineer in the Planning and Policy Division, believes that it’s important to have a Corps presence at these type events and is glad to have assisted.

“Corps participation is very important,” Davis said. “It provides a venue to share what [the Corps] is capable of and provides an opportunity to further educate children on [our] role in public health and safety.”

It was an engineer who influenced Brown to pursue a STEM career. “My decision to pursue a career in civil engineering was greatly influenced by an engineer who gave a talk to my high school class,” he explained. “I’m living proof that engineers’ interaction with students makes a difference in career choices.”

In recent years, it has been noted that the United States is falling behind in the number of its students who graduate with STEM degrees. A U.S. News and World Report article noted that although billions are spent each year on STEM education, America ranks 25th in math and 17th in science among industrialized nations.

With these statistics, Brown is disappointed but not deterred. He said even though the statistics are disheartening, this news provides the district an opportunity to promote STEM in the local community.

“As engineering professionals, I feel it’s very important that we give back to the community. Our profession will only remain as strong as those entering the field behind us. It’s important that we help our youth develop an interest in STEM,” said Brown.

Volunteer Pam Winant, civil engineer in Programs and Project Management Division, realizes the importance of STEM awareness and education.

“The numbers indicate STEM disciplines are definitely declining. Volunteering with agencies big or small who highlight science and math is important because it seems as if school systems are focusing on standardized test results rather than STEM results,” Winant said.

The U.S. Department of Education says the Obama administration has articulated a clear priority for STEM education: within a decade, American students must “move from the middle to the top of the pack in science and math.” Further, he has called on the nation to develop, recruit and retain 100,000 excellent STEM teachers over the next 10 years.

Brown thinks Jacksonville District is doing its part to ensure students are aware of the need for STEM, as evidenced in its display of support during the STEM camp as well as the agency’s highly attended annual Engineering Career Day.

“As the world’s premier public engineering and construction management agency, [the Corps] understands the importance of STEM development on a national scale. Our participation in this event was a way to make a small contribution to the national effort,” Brown said.

There are numerous opportunities for people to volunteer with agencies that promote STEM. A lot of those opportunities are within small organizations that may not get a lot of exposure, which may limit the number of volunteers available to assist when the need arises.

Davis looks forward to the next opportunity to assist as she recalls her early career.

“As a professional, I have to stay mindful that someone took a chance in providing me an opportunity and I want to be in the position to always share and give back to others. This is one of the ways I stay reminded of my beginnings, present abilities and future outlook. There are younger, brighter, more creative engineers coming and this allows me to help nurture that next generation,” Davis said.

Brown and other event volunteers said the public is aware of the seriousness of the shortage of STEM graduates and how this shortage may affect the nation’s future. 

“It was mentioned in some of the speeches given during our last presidential election. The better question,” Brown said, “is what are we, as engineers, going to do about it? As for me, I will always remain willing to serve.”

corps engineering Florida jacksonville Jacksonville District STEM university of north florida USACE