By Carol E. Davis (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District)June 22, 2010
WIESBADEN, Germany - In the world of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, minority students are just that - a minority in an already depressed national average. But a partnership between government agencies and academia is striving to help diversify the workforce.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District is hosting seven students from three different historically black colleges and universities from June 7 through August 13 as part of the Advancing Minorities' Interest in Engineering program, designed to give the students the opportunity to apply their engineering knowledge in a hands-on environment.
Picked from dozens of applicants, the students include Rikita Bonner, Lore'al Spear and Aaron Williams from Tennessee State University, Joanna Smith and Brandon Randolph from Morgan State University, and Tariq Walker from North Carolina A&T State University.
"I've done well in college so I have the knowledge, but I'm here to get the experience and practical application to make myself well-rounded," said Bonner. "I just want to get on as many projects and sites as I can so I can absorb as much information as possible."
According to the AMIE website, the program is aimed at expanding the workforce and academic alliance to implement programs to attract, educate, graduate and place minority students in engineering careers.
The 10-week program provides the students housing and salary while they work alongside district engineers to gain both professional skills and personal development.
Among other things, the students will visit construction sites, participate in project planning charrettes, environmental assessments and a visit with AFRICOM commander Gen. William "Kip" Ward, who is an alumnus of Morgan State University.
"This is a once in a young lifetime experience," said Darren Walls, a district project manager and assistant AMIE program coordinator. "Unemployment is high right now and participating in this program could help students to get a foot in the door. But at the very least, the experience they receive here will strengthen their resumes."
Students start the process of being accepted into AMIE by having a strong academic background and resume, extracurricular engineering involvement, and a letter of good standing from the university.
But the district starts its hiring process long before the first application comes in.
"The chiefs get together in September of the prior year and decide on number of student the district can host," said Elaine Lawson, a district manpower specialist and AMIE program coordinator. "Grade point average is important, but the board really looks at the total student."
In addition to selection boards, the process of bringing students here includes arranging housing, working with human resources and a lot of patience, said Lawson.
"It takes the whole district for the program to be a success," she said. "We need engineers to volunteer their time to mentor the students, we have to find the right projects that will help them gain experience and even more, we have to ensure we can take care of them."
For Lawson, the program is not only an opportunity to help the students learn how to perform in a business environment, it's a very fulfilling experience.
"Coordinating this program is fun for me," she said. "I have the opportunity to help provide a positive impact on the future of not only the industry, but these students' lives."
In fact, past AMIE students have returned to the district - as engineers.
"Being an AMIE intern not only helped me learn about the Corps [of Engineers], but it provided an avenue for networking that works for me even today," said Danielle Brooks, a project engineer in the district's Grafenwoehr Resident Office.
Brooks' best advice to other AMIE students: Network, see as much of Europe as possible and have fun.
"Network, network, network, and not just for future job prospects," said Brooks. "You never know when you'll be backpacking across Europe and need a couch to crash on for a few nights."