WIESBADEN, Germany -- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District welcomed 36 students, representing 23 military high schools, for a day of design, engineering and construction activities during the fourth annual, weeklong Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe STEMposium here.
The STEMposium brings students together to engage in divergent thinking and work in teams to confront disasters using science, technology, engineering and math. DODDS-Europe event organizers change the nature of the disaster from year to year. During the 2014 STEMposium, student were faced with an Ebola outbreak scenario and challenged to design Ebola treatment units.
With that scenario in mind, students arrived Dec. 10 at Europe District eager to interact with engineers involved in Operation United Assistance, the U.S. military mission to fight Ebola in West Africa, said Lt. Col. Robert Hailey, the USACE planner to U.S. Africa Command.
"I immediately realized they wanted to dive into the Ebola project," he said. "Some kids had a laundry list of questions, and during almost every question, I saw lots of heads nodding and pencils moving."
After Hailey shared U.S. Agency for International Development treatment unit design plans with the students, the USACE Forward Engineer Support Team conducted a video teleconference from Liberia. Despite the 4,477-mile distance and poor audio connection, students concentrated on the challenges forward engineers face while operating in West Africa and posed complex questions on waste disposal, avoiding contamination and ensuring safe water supply to ETUs.
FEST members shared photographs of site preparation, raw-material acquisition and completed ETUs to further demonstrate their real-world experiences in Liberia.
"Having students online talking to folks downrange -- that was great," Hailey said. "Normally, these things wouldn't happen live; it was a great opportunity for the students."
Darnell Forbes, a ninth-grade student, from AFNORTH High School in Brunssum, the Netherlands, said the presentations enabled him to connect new ideas. As an aspiring marine biologist, Forbes didn't think he was interested in civil engineering, water towers, or structural strength and stability.
"I didn't know you guys existed, and I didn't know you built ETUs or made our schools, either," he said. "It makes me see the significance of a building. When I go outside and see a parking lot, I think, 'Oh, it keeps cars.' But now I see how much goes into building something -- it's a paradigm shift for me."
After visiting Europe District headquarters, students traveled to Clay Kaserne to tour an active construction site, explore design and building software, learn about the history and uses of concrete, and then, mix a batch. Engineers from USACE's Wiesbaden Resident Office and members of the Consolidated Intelligence Center project team were on hand to speak with the STEMposium students.
Presenter Katie Archer, a district civil engineer, discussed how concrete, the most widely used construction material in the world, is often misunderstood.
"A lot of students were surprised to know how versatile concrete can be," she said. "A lot of them thought of roads and buildings when we talked about concrete; they didn't realize it's something that can be aesthetically pleasing -- used in art and architectural elements."
The concrete presentation was informative and interesting, said Ayomi Obuseh, a Ramstein High School ninth-grader.
"I didn't know the difference between concrete and cement," she said. "I thought they were the same."
While visiting the construction project office, students also learned about software used to design building models and bring them to life in 3-D, said Jason Redeen, the district's CIC project office engineer.
"Half the kids were really interested in what technology is out there -- Revit and Building Information Modeling software -- while others were really interested in the field, the actual construction site," he said.
Obuseh and Forbes favored the technological side of construction management.
Once the engineers did a fly-through of the building in 3-D, Forbes quickly recognized the difference between the BIM and Revit programs -- one creates a singular model and the other converts a model to 3-D. Upon returning to school, the freshman hopes to work with his simulations expert to try out the software.
"It is really important to be immersed in STEM and know more about it," he said.
While Forbes and Obuseh see the value of STEM, not all students do, Redeen said.
"STEM gets a bad name -- it's the nerdy stuff," he said. "But when you bring students to the job site, they see what we do and get excited about it. The job is not about the books it's actually fun, not nerdy."
It was valuable to hear more about engineering and construction from actual professionals, Obuseh said.
"They have experience and they really know their jobs, so we can really learn," she said.
This STEMposium was totally different than classroom learning, Forbes added.
"Here, we got the bad, good, pros and cons of the job from real people," he said.
It's important for the next generation to meet today's engineers, said Zachary Kluckowski, the Wiesbaden resident engineer.
"I didn't have an opportunity to interact with engineers when I was growing up," he said.
As a ninth-grade student, Archer recalls sitting through typing classes -- today, typing has been replaced with courses such as Green and Gaming Technology Engineering, Robotic Engineering and Biotechnology Engineering, to set students up for future careers.
"These students have impressive aspirations to make the world a better place," Archer said. "They aren't just thinking about their next vacation -- they're really passionate about STEM."