What do you get when you combine 14 glue guns, 700 popsicle sticks, 26 school kids and a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers colonel? Two hours of fun, learning and LOTS of laughter!

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Transatlantic Division Col. Stephen Bales was the guest speaker for the Winchester STARBASE Academy Sept. 17, 2019, where he taught engineering and bridge building to students from Armel Elementary School in Frederick County, Virginia.

Although there are more than 40 different types of engineering degrees available today, Bales, who is the deputy commander of the Winchester-based Transatlantic Division and a civil engineer, taught the students about a few desired fields of study within the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Defense -- including mechanical, chemical, electrical, civil and software -- and gave examples of how throughout history engineers found solutions to solve problems.

Bales said the U.S. is currently short approximately 1.5 million engineers across all fields, so he is a proponent of USACE's support to the nationwide STARBASE program.

"USACE support to, and involvement with, the STARBASE program demonstrates the importance of STEM education," he said. "As an engineering organization, USACE needs our best and brightest to become scientists and engineers to help sustain the ever-increasing demand for these skills. As I told the students during today's demonstration, 'If I convinced one of them to become an engineer of tomorrow I achieved success.'"

Following the Engineering presentation, the students formed teams and used their newly gained knowledge to construct bridges with only paper and pencils to draft a bridge design and then glue and 100 popsicle sticks to build their bridge. In an incredible feat of engineering excellence, the bridge from Team Delta was able to hold an astonishing 62.5 pounds of weights before it collapsed -- a new record for the Winchester STARBASE Academy, according to Program Director Susan Corrigan.

STARBASE is a Defense Department program designed to motivate fifth graders to explore educational opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields. The National Guard's STARBASE Academy in Winchester is the only STARBASE program in Virginia, and hosts 56-58 courses a year, with different groups of 28 students from area schools, according to Corrigan.

The program engages students through the inquiry-based curriculum with its "hands-on, mind-on" experiential activities. Teamwork is stressed as they work together to explore, explain, elaborate and evaluate concepts.

"An important aspect of STARBASE is to highlight a variety of STEM career fields in order to show each student the possibilities for their future," said Corrigan. "The Army Corps of Engineers in Winchester is one of our most dedicated guest speakers, visiting our program to engage with the students and show them what it means to be an engineer. The bridge building challenge is an activity our students will always remember as it is hands-on, reinforces how geometry is used in engineering, highlights the importance of teamwork, and is totally exciting. The facial expression of each student during the bridge testing is priceless. I truly appreciate the dedication of the Army Corps of Engineers to our STARBASE program."