Not everyone wants to be an engineer but it’s hard to ignore what engineers do for the world and humanity, and nearly everyone appreciates those efforts.
When U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Transatlantic Middle East District civil engineer Garrison Myer started discussing engineering with 20 students at STARBASE Academy Winchester on Sept. 20, they seemed luke-warm and a bit skeptical about his obvious enthusiasm for engineering. But that changed pretty quickly after Myer’s presentation and hands-on session.
STARBASE Academy is a Department of Defense program held at 70 locations across the United States, including Winchester -- the only one in Virginia. The program strives to excite elementary school students about exploring Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) as they continue their education.
After introducing himself and describing his background, Myer moved into the origins of engineering and described how everything ultimately evolves from engineering. He graphically depicted several ancient engineering feats including the Great Pyramids of Egypt, the Roman Aqueducts, Incan Empire structures, and moved on into the 20th century with the Hoover Dam.
Afterwards, he asked the students how much they appreciated engineering, and their responses were low key with a couple soft “engineering’s kinda cool” comments.
Myer, representing USACE engineering for the John Kerr Elementary School students on their fifth and final day of their STARBASE Academy experience, wasn’t discouraged and continued with more personal examples where he had really enjoyed the benefits of modern day engineering.
“I grew up not far from Six Flags in New Jersey, and was there when they opened the Kingda Ka roller coaster, which at the time, was the tallest and fastest fun ride in the world with a hydraulic launch rocket coaster that goes 456 feet high at 128 miles per hour with a 90 degree ascent and descent. I was talking to my friend when we took off, and because of the speed, my mouth was stuck open for the entire ride. When we arrived back at the start, my long curly hair was stuck backwards, pasted onto the seat. The way I looked, I actually scared some people waiting to get on the ride,” he admitted.
“Engineers work hand-in-hand with architects to accomplish our mission,” Myer said. “Our specific work in the Middle East is a clear example of just what humanity is capable of. An example is a bridge we built in Bahrain. The problem was it took 45 minutes to get from one side of the military base to the other because a major highway cut right through the base and the route made a wide circle. The engineering solution was to build a bridge connecting the two sides of the base. The King of Bahrain gave the Americans permission to build the bridge, but he didn’t want the highway to be closed for more than 24 hours. That’s a serious problem.
“But engineers got together and decided to build a bridge off-site and then take the allowed 24 hours and move the finished bridge into place. Sounds crazy, but we did it. And that’s an awesome example of Engineering,” he said.
When finished with his presentation, Myer instructed the students on getting started with a hands-on bridge building activity. The students, in teams of four, were given a requirement -- to build a bridge that would span a 12-inch opening in one hour – and a set of materials – 100 Popsicle sticks and four hot glue sticks. He interacted with each team, giving tips and encouragement or sharing technical and practical advice when asked or needed.
At the conclusion of the bridge builds, and Myer’s discussion of various aspects and engineering disciplines involved in these team projects, the students’ enthusiasm was much higher, clearly having gained some respect and admiration for the field through the hands-on portion.
Following the weight bearing tests of all the bridges and analysis of the large gap between estimated and actual weight capacity, the students were again asked about a future in engineering. The responses were far more motivated with cheers and lots of loud interaction and smiles, proving the value and importance of USACE professionals interacting with students on STEM topics.
TAM has had a long standing partnership with STARBASE Winchester and provides guest speakers as often as the mission allows.
STARBASE offers schools from surrounding counties the opportunity to send classes of up to 28 students for a 5-day period to the Academy where they are encouraged to set and achieve personal goals. The program engages students through inquiry-based curriculum with its hands-on, mind-on experiential activities. Newton's Laws, Bernoulli's principle, nanotechnology, navigation and mapping are explored. They are captivated by engineering as they use the computer to design space stations, all-terrain vehicles, and submersibles. Math is embedded throughout the curriculum and students use metric measurement, estimation, calculation geometry and data analysis to solve questions. Teamwork is stressed as they work together to explore, explain, elaborate and evaluate concepts.