HENDERSONVILLE, Tenn. (April 14, 2022)— Students from Lipscomb University toured the Old Hickory Power Plant to complete an American Society of Civil Engineers' Infrastructure Report Card as part of their assignment for this semester.
The ASCE Report Card analyzes the condition and performance of an infrastructure every four years and assigns a letter grade based on the physical condition and need for structural improvements or renovations.
“We've been researching infrastructure in Tennessee and having professionals come in and talk with us, and then going out and looking at the infrastructure firsthand introduces our students to experiences they may not have otherwise before graduating,” explained Lipscomb University Assistant Professor Monica Sartain.
Students ventured from their classrooms to the early afternoon tour of Old Hickory Powerplant, Lock and Dam, giving them a chance to exercise their legs and knowledge of industrial infrastructures.
“We discussed the maintenance of the plant how the plant operates. They got to see the maintenance areas and had a good look at generator number one, since it had an outage, we are able to open it up and give them a closer look at the different components that make up the generator,” said Old Hickory Power Plant Manager Joseph Conatser.
Students went down below the turbine floor. They looked at unit number two, comparing the functioning unit to nonfunctioning unit number one. Students also viewed the control room and went over the different controls and operator functions used daily.
“For most of these students, this is their first time to a project like this, so this is an opportunity for them to actually see a structure that they can report on for the Infrastructure Report Card,” said Dam Safety Program Manager Sarah Wiles.
The tour gave students thinking about entering the civil engineer workforce an up close and personal introduction to how USACE locks and dams function on the Cumberland River.
“I think it's important to give them an introduction before they graduate so they can see what they would actually be doing. Sometimes trying to solve math and physics problems isn't as exciting as seeing what it would look like in the real world,” said Sartain.
The Nashville District conducts tours like this to encourage learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics since it is an ever-growing job field which is always needing fulfillment.
“Seeing the scale of this project was eye opening since you don’t always think about what all goes into running one, so getting to see the electrical part as well as the lock system was pretty interesting,” said Ben Lowery, civil engineering student.
Tours of USACE locks and dams are a great way for the students to apply what they are learning in the classroom to scenarios they may experience once they’re on the job.
“After graduation I will be entering project management for a general contractor company, so seeing how Old Hickory lock and dam run for myself gives me greater perspective when looking at these old structures that have been running well for the past 50-60 years,” said Lowery.
By putting on the required personal protective equipment and walking the daily path of an Old Hickory employee, checking off all the boxes and going over safety procedures, these students were able to step outside of their comfort zones and step into the role of powerplant employee.
“Whether it's the generator itself, with all the different parts, or all the engineering efforts from water management to the operations, there’s a lot to USACE and how we run these projects,” Conatser said. “The students get a better idea of how the actual components make up the system and how the team within the corps works together to make the whole system run well.”
Now that COVID mandates have been lifted, Nashville District will conduct more student tours in the coming months, offering more students an opportunity to see what goes on behind the scenes and how a STEM career path can align their future with the Corps.