The Middle East District is committed to assisting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ initiatives in science, technology, engineering and mathematics through educational and outreach efforts.
By providing STEM-related assistance to schools and local youth, the District is assisting the United States to remain an economic and technological leader while supporting Department of Defense and Department of Army and the security of our nation.
One of the Middle East District’s latest tools developed in accomplishing the STEM goals was appointing forward-thinking team member Structural Engineer Nathan Fox as the District’s High School Intern Program Coordinator.
This is a new initiative that is still evolving, as kinks are worked out and future plans are developed.
“I started taking over the intern coordinator responsibilities naturally,” said Fox, who thinks it is incredibly important to encourage local students to explore STEM. “So I put a lot of time and effort into making sure that the students will enjoy, and grow from, their experiences here at TAM. I think the students pick up on the effort I put in, and the passion I have for the program.”
Fox networks with students and teachers, ensuring that the high school intern program continues to grow and the District continues to receive students interested in the High School Intern Program.
“It’s import that someone does this for the students, our organization, the community, and our country,” Fox said of the added responsibilities and his expanded role in the District.
Jeff Raney, Chief of Engineering Division’s Site and Building Design Branch and Fox’s direct supervisor has been supportive and encouraging, helping Fox to see the need for this position and providing advice on the future of the program.
“The high school intern program is a vital part of our STEM outreach,” said Raney. “Once the high school interns enter college, we intend to hire some of them under the direct hire program for post-secondary students to further their engineering development and interest in the Corps of Engineers.
“Nathan has done a fantastic job managing the high school intern program,” Raney continued. “He has mentored two of the students and is coordinating with the high school guidance counselors to arrange for the next high school intern.”
Fox has big plans for the High School Intern Program.
“I hope we can expand this program to more than just one engineering student per semester, to more than just engineering within the District,” he said. “I’d like to be able to go into local schools and talk to students and teachers about the District’s intern program and other opportunities at TAM, perhaps hold an open house event for students to learn more about STEM, this District and our programs. I’d also like to host an annual STEM event in each area high school.”
Fox is also interested in working with the USACE HQ STEM coordinators to get more involved in USACE wide STEM programs here at TAM. “I hope that we can offer successful high school interns summer-hire positions during their breaks from college and that our organization is improved by hiring talented young engineers that are local to our area and want to be here long term for their career.”
He has plans for increasing the District’s strong reputation in our community as an avid supporter of STEM and an organization that is a great place to work.
“I’m interested in doing all we can to help ensure the future of our profession and fill the shortage of people needed to use math and science to come up with solutions to some of the challenges our nation faces,” Fox said. “ Most of all, I hope we change the lives of lots of local students who go through our programs by promoting STEM, building their confidence, and helping them figure out their interests.”
Being offered opportunities for real world experience during high school is great for the students because they can find out more about what they're interested in before they make big decisions like where to go to college and what to study in college, Fox said.
“I like to set up discussions between our high school interns and recent college graduates in our office so the students can learn more about colleges, college life, and how to be successful when they get to college.
Each student’s agenda or syllabus for their time with the District is different. “It depends on the students,” said Fox. “We start all of the interns by rotating them through the different disciplines, but the student can end that rotation and start their final project whenever they feel ready and have decided which discipline to work with. We're flexible with the students to keep them engaged and help them get the most out of the experience.”
The students generate a project while they are working with the District and then have a final presentation that is given twice: Once for the annual Gifted Independent Study Program Showcase for school officials, and again for their mentors and coworkers at the District.
“My mentor style is to support the creativity and interest of the student,” Fox said. “I give them the tools and skills they will need for the project and then step out of the way to let them work. The students always ask me what they should do for their final project, but I always turn the question back on them to come up with something that interests them. I love it when the students come up with their own ideas because they are always creative and fun. Also, when it's their idea, it helps them to take ownership of the project and work hard to make it successful. It builds the student's confidence when they get all the credit for coming up with the idea and working independently on it from start to finish.”
“I stay in touch with these students, following up with them to see what their college or summer work plans are,” Fox said. “It’s great to get updates from them and hear about college decisions they are making.
“I think of the baseball analogy: you need to have good minor league team developing talent if you want to have a winning major league team. Hopefully the local engineers will stay and have a long career with our organization,” said Fox.