Lt. Col. Taneha Carter, Middle East District deputy commander since July, shared engineering ideas, disciplines and traits with 23 STARBASE Academy students in Winchester on Nov. 9.
The students, a class of gifted 4th graders from Winchester’s Virginia Avenue Charlotte DeHart Elementary School, were immersed in science exercises and projects for the week. The group was encouraged to think outside the box and work as a team to accomplish their common goals.
All participants, including instructors and guest speakers, use special call signs instead of their real names at STARBASE. Carter selected Skittles, sharing with the instructors that as a cheerleader at West Point, her game-day diet was Pepsi and Skittles.
One of the students’ STARBASE experiences included meeting Carter, or as they called her, Colonel Skittles. She introduced herself and talked about being a civil engineer with an emphasis on the environment.
An eager student asked Carter what her favorite part of being an engineer was. She replied, “It is really awesome to start out and actually create something from nothing, but it’s also just as cool to have something and make it go away completely,” referring to some structures she’s been involved with blowing up.
Another student from Alpha Team made an immediate connection and announced, “That’s just like MINECRAFT!” And Col. Skittles agreed that it was.
“The students were very bright, creative, and did think outside the box,” she said. “I was able to maintain the students’ attention and involved them all the way through, even during historical information about infrastructure discussions.”
Col. Skittles presented the engineering process and emphasized the importance of each step: define the problem, do research, develop possible solutions, design your solution, build a prototype, test it and evaluate your solutions. She stressed teamwork and the need for input from all team members. For all but one team, working together was a struggle. At the 10 minutes remaining mark, only one bridge had more than a horizontal platform. But each team had height by the end of the hour thanks to encouragement and tips from Carter.
“They had some ingenious ideas that just needed to be tweaked a little for their designs to work like they wanted them to work,” she said. “They reminded me why I have a master’s in Adult Education: to help foster creativity and bring out the best in people through naturally given talents.”
After the construction deadline, glue guns were dropped and the teams moved on to test the weight-bearing capacity of each bridge. With a basket hung from each, Carter and the teams added weight a little at a time. The bridges held from 5 to 20 pounds. The strongest bridge was built by the team that worked the best together, used all their Popsicle sticks, finished before the deadline and had time to go back and reinforce all their joints with additional hot glue.
“I had a blast and look forward to the next STARBASE opportunity,” she said. “I would love to continue to represent this District at the STARBASE program, and encourage other sections to consider the opportunity.
"Although people may say that STEM/Engineering is declining in America, it’s programs like STARBASE that give me hope: STEM/Engineering is alive and well,” Carter said. “I wish these programs were available when I was younger and I will definitely look into seeing that my kids participate in activities similar in nature.”
STARBASE is a DoD program, focused on elementary students, designed to motivate them to explore Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) as they continue their education. USACE Winchester supports STARBASE events with quarterly presentations whenever possible.
Anyone interested in sharing their knowledge and skills through a presentation at STARBASE should plan to visit Public Affairs and discussion the options available.