US Army Corps of Engineers
Middle East District

District mentors future STEM leaders

Published June 2, 2019
Colonel Stephen Bales, Middle East District Commander, congratulates Derek Sprincis and  Matthew Flacksenburg on the successful completion of their high school engineering and project management internships.  The Middle East District’s high school intern program is dedicated to sparking an interest in U.S. Army Corps of Engineers positions for future generations of bright and driven individuals with an interest in STEM and/or project management.

Colonel Stephen Bales, Middle East District Commander, congratulates Derek Sprincis and Matthew Flacksenburg on the successful completion of their high school engineering and project management internships. The Middle East District’s high school intern program is dedicated to sparking an interest in U.S. Army Corps of Engineers positions for future generations of bright and driven individuals with an interest in STEM and/or project management.

On Wednesday, two local high school students wrapped up internships with the Transatlantic Middle East District by giving presentations on their semester long efforts for their district mentors, TAM’s commander and other district personnel.

The students, Mathew Flacksenburg and Derek Sprincis, were both interested in engineering and asked to do the internships as part of their schools’ gifted independent study programs.  They were mentored by district employees, civil engineer Garrison Myer and project manager Marissa Louden, both coordinators for the district’s high school intern program.

Sprincis, a junior at Clarke Country High School, was an engineering intern and worked on a project to design a residential cabin.  He got to use engineering software and tackled both the architectural and structural design of the cabin.

“He’s really been a model intern,” said Myer of Sprincis. “He’s done work I didn’t do until college and he really put in the time needed to get the project right.”

In addition to working with Myer, Sprincis had the opportunity to shadow engineers across several disciplines and said the internship helped him realize he was on the right career path.

“I had asked for this internship because I’d been thinking I’d like to become a civil engineer and being able to talk to different people and see what they do has given me more certainty that’s the right choice for me.”

Flacksenburg, a junior at James Wood High School, had a different experience. As the district’s first ever project management intern, he was exposed to engineering but also a variety of other jobs needed to bring a project together.

“I was interested in engineering and a friend of mine had done an internship with the Corps of Engineers and suggested I see if they would take me on,” he said.  “I thought I’d be doing engineering but Marissa offered me a chance to explore project management. Once she explained what it involved, I thought it would be a great opportunity.”

“We’ve supported high school interns for as long as I’ve been at the district,” said Louden. “They’re always engineering interns but I thought there’s no reason we shouldn’t take on a project management intern as well.”

She proposed the idea to district leadership and in short order, Flacksenburg found himself boldly going where no intern has gone before.

For his project, he took on a proposed renovation of the auditorium at his high school and quickly picked up on the variety of tasks a successful project manager needs to juggle to make a project happen.

In additional to planning the renovation itself, he also had to conduct a site survey, estimate labor and equipment costs and come up with a detailed timeline for the project.

“I think the biggest thing I learned working on this project is how necessary the entire team is to make a project happen,” said Flacksenburg. “I didn’t have to be an expert in everything but needed to know the right people to ask.”

Louden said she definitely saw project management potential in the student and he agreed it had peaked his interest.

“I came into this wanting to be an engineer but now I’m considering a major in business management,” he said.

And although his project was hypothetical, he did have a chance to present it to members of the school board during a showcase night.

“The school doesn’t have any current renovation plans but the school board did have a chance to see the project so you never know.”

After their final presentations, district leadership praised the students’ hard work and dedication to their projects.

Jeff Raney, the chief of TAM’s site and design branch said although the students had access to multiple engineers and other resources, he gave TAM personnel strict instructions.

“I told my people that they should mentor them as much as possible but they should absolutely not do the work for them so the effort belongs to the students,” said Raney.

Colonel Stephen Bales, TAM’s commander, wrapped up the students’ presentation by also praising their hard work and thanking his district team for the work they put into mentoring the students.

“It’s apparent from the presentations, these guys really took their projects seriously. I’ve seen some great work here and I’d have no problem asking either one of them to come work for me, in the future,” said Bales. “I’m also really proud of the work Marissa, Garrison and the rest of the team have done in mentoring them. They’ve all got full schedules so for them to dedicate time to work with these students and ensure they have a worthwhile experience is really appreciated.”

Bales also noted the effort that Louden and Myer had put into the program as whole by coming up with a comprehensive plan to ensure students received a model educational experience. That plan defined which schools will participate, the intern selection process, an estimated labor cost to the District per intern and a defined timeline. It also delineated the program differences for the project management intern verses the engineering intern.

“Thanks to their efforts The Middle East District probably has one of the most detailed intern program processes I’ve seen,” said Bales. “I really think they’ve created a template that could be something for other districts to emulate.”