STEM professionals encourage next generation of STEM workers
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STEM professionals encourage next generation of STEM workers
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While many students in Huntsville and surrounding areas are taking time off from their studies this summer, Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville's Science, Technology, Engineering and Math professionals helped administrators at a local summer enrichment program show students how summer downtime is a perfect opportunity to reinforce STEM.

Huntsville Center employees Erin Hamilton, Stacey Sapp and Juan Pace from the Engineering Directorate and Wesley Malone, Installation Support and Programs Management Directorate, acted as STEM mentors for kindergarten through eighth grade students in the Indian Creek Primitive Baptist Church Summer Enrichment Program June 19 and July 10, respectively.

Mentors helped students develop problem-solving skills with fun exercises and interactive design competitions. There were opportunities for students to generate drawings, choose fabrics, build a Corps tower, test solar panels and observe a windmill that is powered by the sun.

Indian Creek's Summer Enrichment Program director Sarah Drake said she implemented the STEM platform for the students due to the Obama administration's initiation of the Educate to Innovate Program in 2009, to make STEM learning a high priority -- particularly to underrepresented populations. She said her goal is to find an innovative ways to introduce STEM activities to younger students and build on some of the concepts the older students have learned during the school year.

"STEM is very big right now," Drake said. "Our curriculum allows us to invite guest speakers from local universities and government organizations to give our students information on their careers. We want to use speakers who can inspire our students to pursue careers in engineering and on different platforms to help young minds analyze data, see patterns and recreate computer-based solutions. From Lego to K'NEX to software design, our camps aim is to prepare the next generation of tech workers."

Drake said she has been an educator for more than 40 years, facilitating students from preschool to college level. Since children learn things in different ways, she seeks out presenters who can provide STEM education in diverse formats.

"Students may also be attracted to some STEM careers for obvious reasons like the salaries associated with certain STEM fields, but we want to show the students some different reasons for pursuing a career. Scientists, engineers, mathematicians -- we get those careers. But an architect, interior designer, project manager or military engineer? The Corps of Engineers employees have raised our awareness on some very diverse civilian and military STEM careers that are off the beaten path. I'm pleased with both presentations," Drake said.

Huntsville Center employees said they enjoyed having the opportunity to interact with the students.

"The outreach was a good way for me to take what I do in my profession and share it with the local community," Hamilton, an interior design in Engineering Directorate's Interior Design Section, said. Hamilton participated in the June 19 outreach.

"I enjoyed sharing interior design concepts and interacting with the children through hands-on activities. The opportunity to interact and communicate with others also helps strengthen my abilities and skills as a designer," Hamilton said.

"Since our section has proven to be vital to our organization, I think raising awareness about interior design is important. Most people don't realize that interior design is a STEM career, so educating young people about future opportunities with the government is a win for the school, USACE and Huntsville Center."

Malone, a project manager at the Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville, participated as a mentor at the July 10 outreach. He partnered with Daniel Tait, chief executive officer at the Alabama Center for Sustainable Energy, a local nonprofit organization, to give an interactive renewable energy presentation.

The presentation showcased different types of renewable energy, their impact on our society and the future outlook for renewable energy sources. Malone and Tait discussed green concepts projects managers use on projects worldwide and gave students challenges to "take their school off the grid," by becoming better stewards of our natural resources and joining the Corps energy team one day.

"I am excited about the opportunity to aspire you to understand future careers in energy," Tait said. "Let's get started by learning a new word -- sustainable. So who knows what sustainable means? Sustainable means something has the ability to do work forever. Every day, government organizations like the Corps are hard at work saving millions of tax dollars to eliminate energy waste and deploying technological innovations like microgrid solutions. You need to understand how energy concepts relate to you and see the bright future of the energy field."

"Being that I am an energy expert, I can quickly pick up on some problems with this room and can provide solutions that will make it more energy efficient which results in lower energy costs for this building," Malone said. "Let's talk about a couple of things that could have been done differently when the engineers were planning this room. What are some of the first things we (energy experts) look at when we are working on a new building: what type materials will we use to construct the building and is it sustainable? Many of our energy experts will be retiring during the next decade, so we need more help. I need someone to come and work with me to solve the problems associated with global warming, and I'm hoping it will be one of you."

Drake said this year marks the first time Huntsville Center has come to the school. She looks forward to more mentoring opportunities with the organization.

"We are pleased with the response we've gotten from our students," Drake said. "They are excited about STEM because the speakers have shared their passion for their career choices. Thank you for mentoring and inspiring our youth to become the next generation of STEM professionals --we definitely want to have you back again."