US Army Corps of Engineers
Middle East District

Personal stories demonstrate passion for STEM

Published June 14, 2019
Transatlantic Middle East District civil engineer Ted Upson, aka Gator, discusses design strategies with students from Sacred Heart Academy during their week-long adventure at STARBASE Academy Winchester.

Transatlantic Middle East District civil engineer Ted Upson, aka Gator, discusses design strategies with students from Sacred Heart Academy during their week-long adventure at STARBASE Academy Winchester.

Transatlantic Middle East District civil engineer Ted Upson discusses results of the weight bearing test done on the bridges built by the students at STARBASE.

Transatlantic Middle East District civil engineer Ted Upson discusses results of the weight bearing test done on the bridges built by the students at STARBASE.

Transatlantic Middle East District's civil engineer Ted Upson assists students with the weight bearing test following their bridge build project at the STARBASE Academy Winchester.

Transatlantic Middle East District's civil engineer Ted Upson assists students with the weight bearing test following their bridge build project at the STARBASE Academy Winchester.

Transatlantic Middle East District Civil Engineer Ted Upson recently met with 25 students from Sacred Heart Academy at STARBASE Academy Winchester.  

STARBASE Academy is a DoD program that focuses on primarily fifth graders. The goal is to motivate students to explore Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) as they continue their education.

The local academy in Winchester hosts two different groups of up to 28 students each week. Students from surrounding school districts attend STARBASE Academy for a full week, where they are encouraged to set and achieve goals and accomplish an inquiry-based curriculum with "hands-on, mind-on" experiential activities. They study Newton's Laws and Bernoulli's principle; explore nanotechnology, navigation and mapping.

Each student, teacher and all guest speakers select a call sign which is used at STARBASE instead of names. Upson selected Gator because he graduated from the University of Florida.

Both the Transatlantic Middle East District and the Transatlantic Division provide STEM professionals to lead discussions and hands-on building activities at the STARBASE Academy Winchester on a quarterly basis.

Following a brief slide presentation and during a discussion about important classes to take for students potentially interested in an engineering career, Gator confirmed the importance of Reading and English in order to be able to communicate with non-engineers; take Science classes to learn from history and be able to apply scientific laws and principles; and of course you need Math.

“But the reason you have to take Math may surprise you,” he said. “It’s not required just so that you can get the right math answers; that is not the only point. You take math because you need to learn how to think methodically. Math teaches you to analyze a problem and think about how to get a solution.”

As an example, Gator shared a story about a client asking him to help with a leaking roof. He said he’d tried everything he could think of to find the leak and just couldn’t, so he reached out to Gator.

“I am not a roofer and know nothing about them,” Gator told his client.  “He told me that he didn’t need a roofer. He needed an engineer -- someone who could think about the problem, apply logic and figure it out. 

“You know what,” he asked the students. “I found that leak. Even though I didn’t have the technical knowledge to do it. But because I was taught to think, I could look at what was happening and think about how that might be happening, apply logic, and figure out how to test for where the leak was actually coming from. And it worked.”

Engineering is science, problems and puzzles solving.

“Engineering is the opposite of being a lawyer,” Upson said. “Laws can change and lawyers have to be able to argue anything. But, the properties of concrete, for example, do not change. They are always the same. Everywhere.

“And it doesn’t matter what language I speak, I can communicate with an engineer from another country because we both speak Engineering and those principles are the same, everywhere,” he said.

“If I asked you about what profession saves the most lives, what would you answer,” Gator asked. Common answers were doctors, nurses, surgeons.

Gator replied, ‘how about engineers?’

Students didn’t readily agree but Gator had a story for them.  

“My son was in the hospital when he was very young. Sitting in his room, holding him, I started thinking how grateful I was for the doctors and nurses keeping him alive,” he shared. Then he said he looked around at all the lighting, machines, humming and beeping technology and realized it was not only doctors and nurses, but also engineers keeping him alive.

“Engineers invented the machines that were monitoring his every breath and keeping him going; engineers built bridges so people can safely cross a body of water or a deep gorge; engineers design buildings so that they don’t fall down and keep people safe from the elements; engineers designed processes to take gross water and turn it into clean drinking water; engineers build aircraft that stay in the air while delivering an organ from a donor to a patient halfway around the world; engineers design cars so that drivers and pedestrians are safe.

“Engineers never make the list of lifesaving professions but they belong right there on that list instead of being taken for granted,” he said.