As the commander and District Engineer of the Jacksonville District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and its 800-strong team of scientists, engineers and other professionals, I encourage everyone to celebrate and recognize the important contributions of science, technology, engineering and mathematics professionals during this year’s National Engineers Week — February 19-25. This is also a great week to encourage young people from all walks of life to consider a career in one of these vital “STEM” fields.
Getting young people interested in STEM is not just “good business” for our Army Corps of Engineers; it is essential to the strength of our nation.
For the Corps of Engineers, being able to recruit and retain high-quality technical professionals is essential if we are to successfully execute our mission: building and operating infrastructure and projects that increase resiliency, energize the national economy and support national defense.
The Jacksonville District is responsible for two of the Corps of Engineers’ largest projects—the rehabilitation of Lake Okeechobee’s Herbert Hoover Dike and restoration of America’s Everglades. These nationally-significant projects provide important benefits: reducing flood risks associated with the dike and significantly improving the ecosystem across central and south Florida.
Hundreds of the best and brightest engineers, physical scientists, biologists, environmental scientists, economists, and other technical professionals work on these and our many other complex projects.
But we can’t just rely on those who are working on the projects now — we must have a steady stream of new, well-trained, motivated STEM professionals, who were exposed to STEM in grade school, learned more and became motivated to pursue STEM in middle school and high school, and followed their passion to earn degrees in STEM subjects as undergraduates and graduate students.
This issue is not peculiar to the Jacksonville District or the Corps of Engineers. A 2014 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted that the United States will generate an additional one million jobs in STEM fields by 2022, compared to 2012.
If the nation doesn’t have highly-trained, technically competent workers to fill those well-paying jobs, we lose great economic benefits and a competitive edge in world markets.
That’s the big picture. Now I’d like to shift gears a bit, and highlight some of the great work that Jacksonville District employees are doing to volunteer and help promote STEM education in our local communities.
Many district team members volunteer with a variety of non-profit organizations to mentor students in local colleges and high schools.
On Friday of this week, several of our district team members will be involved in an Engineer’s Week competition that will see teams from local high schools (and one ambitious middle school) competing to deliver the best solutions to engineering challenges.
We expect nearly 100 students, organized in four-person teams, to participate. This year’s take-home challenge involves designing a flume, similar to a dam spillway. Judges will test the projects by timing how long a steel ball-bearing takes to roll down the flume.
A successful flume controls and slows the flow of water to prevent erosion and other types of damage, so the team that wins will have designed and built a flume in which the ball takes the longest time to transit the structure. Students will also face a surprise problem that they will have to analyze and solve during the day.
Students also have the chance to talk with members of engineering firms from the Jacksonville area and university representatives from around the state.
Besides Engineer Week activities, district volunteers participate in a variety of other STEM outreach and education activities, including:
- At University of North Florida, district volunteers arrange speakers from the engineering industry, visits to interesting engineering and construction projects and an employment panel for students.
- Other district teammates volunteer in a program that works to excite high school students about the architecture, construction and engineering professions, teaching them critical thinking and problem solving. Teams of students learn to develop and present mock requests for proposal in this three-month program.
- District members also serve as judges for the Army's eCYBERMISSION competition, an annual on-line event that challenges middle and high school students to solve a variety of STEM-related challenges.
To learn more about National Engineer’s Week, and about Corps of Engineers and Army STEM outreach and all that engineers contribute to the strength of our nation, please visit: