ALBUQUERQUE, N.M., -- Exploring STEM-related career fields was the theme for the 30 students and 13 adults who visited the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Albuquerque District's main office Jan. 3, 2014.

To encourage students to consider careers in STEM, or Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, the District partners with several schools, universities and other groups. The recent event was initiated by The Links, Incorporated, which works with the University of New Mexico's Pre-College Math and Science Program for non-traditional, underserved students.

The students represented 17 area middle and high schools.

"The adults included two graduates of the Pre-College Math and Science Program -- a young lady who is a Junior at UNM and the only African American female in her engineering class of over 200 students -- and a young man who is working on his doctorate in engineering at Johns Hopkins University," said Jean Harris, Chair, Services to Youth Albuquerque Chapter, The Links, Incorporated.

"There were also three parents and two grandparents. The Links had four representatives," she said.

Many of the students are also concurrently members of NSBE, National Society of Black Engineers.

The students started off learning what STEM is, its importance and an introduction to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Then came the hands-on application of STEM knowledge and skills to real world events: flooding around New Mexico and building a dam to help control flood waters. Working in small groups, the students built model dams using clay, popsicle sticks, rocks, and foil in a plastic bucket. The dams were tested to see how much water they could hold back. The winning dam held back seven cups of water without any leakage.

After a discussion of the methods that worked and didn't work, District employees talked about different types of dams and the forces engineers have to account for when building a dam. Next was dam building round two, where the students rebuilt dams using what they learned. This time, the dams were stronger and held back more water than they did the first time around.

The event wrapped up with a discussion on STEM careers at the Corps, getting a mentor and job shadowing, where the student could follow a District employee for a time to see what they do and how they use STEM skills and knowledge.

Several District employees helped make this event a positive learning experience for the students. Hydro-geologist Michael Goodrich; mechanical engineer Connie Runyan; and biologist Michelle Mann; and architects Amanda Tapia-Pittman and Lionel Romero talked with the students about different STEM careers in the Corps and facilitated the dam-building activity. District Commander Lt. Col. Gant also addressed the students and observed the first round of dam-building.

Considering the current constraints on resources within the Corps, one might ask why the District is involved in events like this. After all, teenaged students aren't high on the list of those the Corps is recruiting. Or are they?

STEM has a special place in the Corps of Engineers. Employees in STEM fields account for close to half of the Corps' employees. Six of the Corps' nine mission-critical occupations are STEM-related.

"The District gets involved in events like this because the Department of Labor estimates that by 2018, there will be 1.2 million job openings in STEM-related fields but not enough trained personnel in the country to fill them. By participating in events like this one, the Corps helps engage and encourage students in considering STEM careers as well as provides internship and shadowing opportunities of USACE STEM careers," said Michelle Mann, the District's STEM coordinator.

As an Army leader in STEM education and outreach, and in attracting a highly competent STEM workforce, the Corps recognizes the critical role that STEM education plays in enabling the United States to remain an economic and technological leader, and in supporting the Defense Department and Army in the security of our Nation.