STEM grads critical to U.S. military mission

By C. Todd LopezAugust 15, 2013

Corps of Engineers
Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers commanding general and 53rd chief of engineers, discusses the importance of science, technology, engineering and math with students in an Advanced Placement biology class, May 14, 2013, dur... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Aug. 14, 2013) -- The Army and America both need more scientists, engineers, mathematicians and technology specialists, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is now doing something about that, said its commander.

As part of an effort to turn young students on to science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, career choices, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, or USACE, in May signed an agreement to partner with the Department of Defense Education Activity, known as DODEA, schools to bring engineering-related experiences to the classroom, said Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick, Corps commander.

For now, Bostick said, the new partners have identified USACE districts to be matched up with schools. He also said the new team is working on what topics they will look at.

"We already have in our kit bag neat things that would inspire young boys and girls to want to at least be interested in the STEM fields," Bostick said. "Whether that is bridge building, or understanding the Mississippi, and everything that happens on the Mississippi from dams and levees, recreation, ecosystem restoration, those are the types of things we can talk about and how the COE (Corps of Engineers) is engaged."

The general said the intent is to be in classrooms by mid- to late October.

The general talked with bloggers, via telephone, during an Aug. 13, bloggers roundtable discussion about the need for more Americans to enter into STEM education and careers. The general said increasing the number of Americans in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers is important for the nation and the military.

"A workforce with robust science, technology, engineering, and mathematics capabilities is critical to the success of the U.S. military mission," said Bostick. "The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Defense, and the nation must ensure that there is a pipeline engaged in STEM and prepared for careers in engineering, the natural sciences, and research and development."

Today, Bostick said, the U.S. is behind in producing professionals in the STEM career fields.

"Only 14 countries in the world produce a smaller percentage of engineers than the United States, including countries like Bangladesh, Cambodia and Cuba," Bostick said. "Out of 100 U.S. college graduates, four will be engineers. In Russia, that number is 10. In China, 31."

He also said the diversity of American STEM graduates is lacking. Of 100 graduates, only 10 are women, and five are Hispanic or African American, he said. Diversity is something that makes the Army stronger, he said, so there is much work to be done to increase diversity among STEM careerists.

"We want an Army that reflects America," he said, "We are always working and striving for that."

As commander of the "largest public engineering firm in the world, with more than 36,000 civilians, and 600 military members, in 130 countries around the world, Bostick said that today, the Corps of Engineers is doing well, keeping its ranks filled with capable engineers and scientists, with only a few areas of concern. Among those, he said, are structural engineering and geo-technical engineering, where the Corps is in "competition for talent" with the private sector.

But in the years ahead, by about 2020, he said, it's predicted there will be about 2.8 million STEM job openings, and America must increase the number of college graduates by about 1 million STEM professionals to meet that requirement. That goal won't be met without some changes, he said.

One problem explaining the dearth of STEM graduates, Bostick said, is the number of young students who have decided early on that a career in math and science isn't for them.

"I can tell you that in ninth grade, we know that about only six will go on to study STEM in college, out of 100 students," Bostick said. "We are already starting early on knowing that folks are not interested in this area. And some of it has to do with the studies they have to put into it."

He said it's important to keep young minds open to careers in such fields, and to prevent youth from deciding at an early age they are not interested in STEM education. That is one reason why Bostick said the Corps is involved with DODEA. But students at higher levels need also to be engaged.

"At junior levels, we have to do as much to keep the doors open on the science and math course," he said. "They are going to have to take them anyway, but I think keep the doors open in terms of their interest. Try to spark enough interest in the youngsters in order to keep them active and engaging, to keep them in the fight, so to speak."

For high school and college students, he said, educators and industry must do more to help students understand where a career in STEM fields might take them; what their career might look like 10 years down the road.

It's not just civilian college students and grade school children that can help America gain an edge in STEM-related industries, Bostick said. The Corps of Engineers is working with wounded warriors and veterans to bring them aboard and help them develop a desire to further their education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

"The COE is taking this on as a mission, and we are starting with wounded warriors," he said. "We have asked wounded warriors that are interested to come into our ranks. In the many districts, divisions, or even at my HQ, we have wounded warriors that are serving with us in intern programs, or they are serving with us while they wait to transition, and I have seen some of them gain skills that are easily transferable, and then they go into STEM-related areas based on that experience."

Active-duty Soldiers can also play a part, he said. While serving as commander of Army Recruiting Command, Bostick said he had been surprised to learn as many as 50 percent of active-duty Soldiers were engaged in some sort of civilian education courses. In that regard, he said, schools now are working to find ways for students to take STEM education courses online or remotely.

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