Public Affairs Office
VICKSBURG, Miss.; ALEXANDRIA, Va.; CHAMPAIGN, Ill.; HANOVER, N.H. – “We are raising a generation of ‘American Idols’ and ‘So You Think You Can Dancers,’ when what we really need is a generation of Gateses (Microsoft founder) and Zuckerbergs (Facebook founder),” said ERDC Geotechnical and Structures Laboratory (GSL) Research Civil Engineer Shelley Tingle. Tingle made the comments in relating the importance of the ERDC Human Capital Office’s (HCO) efforts in fields of study for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
The ERDC STEM programs began in Vicksburg in Fiscal Year (FY) 10 with Department of Defense (DOD) National Defense Educational Program (NDEP) funds. The Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL) and Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL) received funding in FY 11 and the Topographic Engineering Center (TEC) in FY 12.
In FY 11, STEM Programs served an impressive 7,500 students and 200 teachers, while increased awareness of STEM opportunities in just the first half of FY 12 attracted more than 9,000 participants and involved a number of scientists and engineers (S&Es) at all sites.
HCO Assistant Director Dr. Peggy Wright and Education Outreach Coordinator Rick Tillotson direct the program for Vicksburg, Champaign, Hanover and Alexandria from ERDC headquarters in Vicksburg, using funds designated for multiplying interest in STEM careers.
Involving ERDC S&Es
DOD’s NDEP funds educational programs sponsored by the National Center for Advancement of STEM Education (nCASE).
A unique component of nCASE focuses on training STEM professionals from designated DOD laboratories nationwide, such as the ERDC. They team these scientists and engineers (S&Es) with teachers in the training process, with each benefitting from the other’s perspective, experience and expertise.
Following training, the S&Es visit classrooms of their local nCASE-trained teachers. These experts provide students with a “real-world” perspective, bringing the STEM instruction to life.
STEM careers vital to national interest
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, STEM careers will add 785,700 new jobs from 2008 to 2018.
“However, we are graduating students at a far lower rate than required to meet demand!” said Tingle. “It is important for us to invest in STEM activities to help our economy and to help the U.S. remain a technology superpower.
“And engineers and scientists who are using their skills in the real world are the best qualified to be investing in STEM activities,” said Tingle, who has been involved in promoting STEM educational efforts for 20 years.
A great promoter of these STEM educational efforts, ERDC annually hires more than 300 students through its college student program, with 2011’s students representing 30 states and 70 universities.
In addition, as a major participant in outreach activities, ERDC draws teachers and students from kindergarteners to high school seniors through programs including:
- Robotics Teams
- eCYBERMISSION Teams
- STEM Bowl competitors
- Science and technology summer camps
- STEM teacher workshops
- Science fair judged competitions
- Subject matter experts’ classroom presentations
- Mathematics video-gaming software
- MATHCounts Teams
Many of these ERDC sponsored or co-sponsored teams have won top awards at local, state and regional competitions, reflecting the direction and dedication of their adult sponsors, volunteers and teachers attending STEM workshops, resulting in formation of some of these winning teams.
TEC conducts its first STEM teacher workshop
ERDC-TEC recently hosted its first such STEM workshop with the theme “Preparing for 21st Century Education.” Six S&Es from TEC and the Army Geospatial Center (AGC) participated in the workshop along with 20 middle school teachers from the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS). More than 175,000 students are enrolled in the FCPS, the largest public school system in the Northern Virginia Metropolitan and Baltimore-Washington areas.
“STEM workshops provide an opportunity for teachers to learn ways to encourage student interest and engagement in science and engineering topics,” said TEC Management Analyst Shardey Mitchell, who coordinated the workshop. “Observing the interaction between the teachers and our S&Es allowed me to see how the curriculum in the classroom can be applied to real-world situations,” she said.
The workshop focused on the use of innovative inquiry and design-based methods used through a sports materials’ module. Activities ranged from exploring the design and materials used in sports equipment; recognizing material that affect the use of balls in sporting activities; and investigating the energy absorption of friction in sports materials.
“I enjoyed watching teachers from both within and outside of core STEM courses participating in an effort to enact a more stimulating and relevant education style with the help of everyday scientists that can benefit students,” said Katlyn Castillo, TEC.
“The workshop was fun and engaging. There was such enthusiastic interaction between the teachers and S&Es. This type of hands-on learning in the classroom will really help embed the knowledge in the students’ minds,” said TEC Physical Scientist Luke Catania, adding that “after completion, they will not walk away thinking this was just another lecture. They will remember what they have learned.”
Other notable ERDC STEM projects focus on festival exhibits educating the thousands of attendees who interact with the displays, such as the USA Science and Engineering Festival and the annual Earth Day, both held in Washington D.C.
CRREL’s STEM exhibits popular at major festival
CRREL staffers exhibited a premier STEM educational tool with the Synthetic Automotive Virtual Environment (SAVE) driving simulator as ERDC’s main attraction at the festival. Wright, Tillotson, Mary Roko and Shannon Duval of the Alexandria Executive Office also supported the activity.
An estimated 150,000 people attended the three-day festival, which featured more than 3,000 fun and interactive exhibits and science celebrities, the Myth Busters and Bill Nye, the science guy.
ERDC’s “four-degree-of-freedom” simulator ran non-stop and allowed more than 200 “drivers” to perform log crossings, traverse gravel, snow and mud and experience a near roll-over from a simulated blast, as they navigated a virtual High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle over a unique course created for the festival.
Another of ERDC’s co-sponsored exhibits featured STEM Alaska’s Big Ice Team, a program of the Juneau Economic Development Council to highlight the climatic changes underway in the Arctic in a way that makes a lasting impact on current and future leaders. Among the many hands-on exhibits from Alaska were Wooly Mammoth and Steppe Bison bones from ERDC’s permafrost tunnel and bones collected near the tunnel.
Initial CERL training focuses on mathematics
Using NDEP funds, CERL’s John Mudrick set up a training forum in May for math teachers from the local Champaign-Urbana middle schools as part of its STEM program.
He shared that a guiding principle for nCASE states that today’s youth – the “Millinnials” – are technically literate like no other generation before them. In a culture dominated by iPods, digital cameras, cell phones, educational games, and similar gadgets, teachers have no choice but to integrate digital technology into their curricula if they hope to keep students excited about learning.
In Champaign, the first week of training was for two MWMs (Composites and Sports Materials) while the second week provided immersion in DimensionU tools. These computer-based “games,” which are Tabula Digita products, make learning fun by creating challenges that require students to use different math principles and creative thinking to garner points toward “winning” the game.According to Amos Lee, a teacher at Jefferson Middle School, “A lot of kids play video games and these tools use many of the same interfaces, so it will be an easy adjustment for my students to learn. They will also be able to do it on their own, and we can monitor when they’re logged in at school or at home and know how much time they’re spending on it.”
Lee added, “The training really got us excited about the game and if you can get teachers excited, they can pass it along to their students. Any time you can get kids motivated to do math, it’s a good thing!”
A portion of CERL’s funding paid for three-year licenses to use the Tabula Digita games. Funds also covered classroom supplies, stipends for the local teachers, and a certified instructor from nCASE. To date, six CERL S&Es are participating in the program.
Strong support for eCYBERMISSION
Another STEM component involving ERDC team members centers on Army-sponsored eCYBERMISSION competitions. Free for students in grades six through nine, this is a Web-based STEM competition where teams vie for state, regional and national awards while working to solve problems in their community. eCYBERMISSION’s goal is to increase the number of students studying STEM-related subjects, by piquing their interest in STEM and the exciting career possibilities.
This year’s Vicksburg eCYBERMISSION team, “Floodstoppers,” with Tingle as volunteer adviser, won the state competition and advanced to the southeastern regional competition where they won over 1,000 students to claim second place. Dr. Jeff Steevens, ERDC-EL, also mentored an award-winning eCYBER team in 2011.
ERDC recently supported USACE Headquarters in staffing a booth at RDECOM’s STEM Tech Expo in Leesburg, Va., where 16 first-place regional winning teams from across the nation attended the 2012 eCYBERMISSION conference, competing to win up to $2,500 and the national title for each grade.
STEM Volunteers welcomed
From robotics team sponsors to classroom presenters, opportunities abound for team member volunteers, who are always welcomed by the HCO for increasing involvement in the myriad of available STEM activities.
For information on and involvement in ERDC’s STEM program, contact Rick Tillotson at 601-634-5376 or e-mail Richard.V.Tillotson@usace.army.mil.