Local high school students get taste of engineering

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Posted: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 9:14 am

The Engineering and Support Center-Huntsville celebrated Engineers Week by meeting Thursday with more than 300 juniors and seniors at J.O. Johnson High.

“We are here to encourage each of you to consider a career in science, technology, engineering or math,” Huntsville Center commander Col. Robert Ruch said.

“It’s important for people like me and the Corps of Engineers to come and talk to students like you. You are the future of organizations like ours.”

Engineers Week is observed by the engineering community during the third week of February to call attention to engineers’ contributions to society, and the Center used the opportunity to reinforce their Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM, program with a local high school.

After the students listened to four short speeches from Center employees, each explaining how they got in to their respective technical fields, their attention quickly turned to a challenge.

Ten teams of students were each given two large bags of marshmallows, one box of dry spaghetti noodles and 15 minutes to build a tower with the tallest claiming first place.

After the initial confusion of the marshmallow challenge passed, students began to discuss the task, and perhaps without realizing it, discuss basic engineering principles like design and evaluation or contemplating the breaking point of the materials they were given.

Mentors from the Center let the students work the problems out on their own for the most part, but each offered little bits of advice to the teams, often reinforcing good ideas the students came up with while designing and quickly building towers out of materials you would normally toast over a fire or boil in a pot of water.

Johnson senior Daveon Moore said he was excited about having an opportunity to see and hear about some of the various technical and engineering fields at the Corps of Engineers.

“There is so much information to take in today,” he said. “One of the speakers is in the Army, and becoming an Army engineer is actually one of my career choices – I can be an Army commander and engineer like him one day if I want. The speakers helped me see that there are many engineering options that I haven’t thought of yet.”

After the towers were built and measured, each student received a certificate and had a chance to ask questions.

“Many of our students say they want to become engineers but don’t know about the different types of engineers or what an engineer does,” Lakeeta Perkins, science teacher and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math program coordinator at Johnson, said. She said having the group from the Center there to share their experience was a good way to help students make informed decisions about their future.

The following served as mentors for students during the tower-building exercise and stayed after the event to answer extra questions: Lt. Col. William Burruss, deputy commander; Allyn Allyson, Ashley Roeske, Lindsey Miller from the Ordnance and Explosives Directorate; and William Strong, Roderick Bridgeman, Jeff Coulston, Steve Willoughby, Kimberly Edwards, Jason Page, Eldric Jefferson, Robert Jackson, Ramona Chestang and Angela Brown from the Engineering Directorate.

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