In constant support of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in the region, the Transatlantic Middle East District (TAM) has hosted a high school intern program for several years, offering high school students interested in STEM futures a chance to see the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in action and to be part of real-time engineering problems and solutions.
The partnership benefits the students through their exposure to a professional work and engineering environment, challenging their preconceptions while expanding their skills. The collaboration benefits Team TAM through increased understanding of and potentially piquing interest in a career with USACE.
“Traditionally TAM hosts one intern per semester,” said Garrison Myer, licensed civil engineer and manager of TAM’s High School Intern Program. “We wanted to increase our capability to help and instruct students and the command gave approval for up to three, so we hosted three interns this semester. And it was a little nerve racking since we were concerned about delivering an experience that the interns would really thrive in and whether we could enable them to deliver a final product and presentation that was on par with what we got when we had one intern. But it turned out that all those fears were unfounded. These interns did work that far exceeded anything that you would expect from a high school intern or even a college student in most cases.”
The three interns were Chloe Koren (a senior at Millbrook High School and Mountain Vista Governor’s School), Sebastian Rincon-Camacho (James Wood High School) and Mikayla Balio (John Handley High School and Mountain Vista Governor’s School). They spent the semester working together on a Green Roof Biomedical Engineering Lab with each intern having responsibility for a different portion of the project.
Koren, who has been accepted into Virginia Tech’s Engineering Program where she plans to study Biological Systems Engineering with a focus on sustainability, worked on the architecture portion of the project with TAM architect Lymarie Torres Rodriquez as her mentor.
Rincon-Camacho, who will attend Johns Hopkins University to major in engineering and/or computer science, worked on the Mechanical Engineering portion of the project with mentor Chad Crosbie.
Balio, who will attend New Jersey Institute of Technology to major in biomedical engineering as well as to play Division 1 soccer, worked on the civil engineering portion of the project with Myer as her mentor.
Technical assistance also came from other Team TAM members including Ivelisse Ayala (Electrical), Mary Billings (Structural), Cory Burbrink (Mechanical), Doug Faber and Katie Render (Fire Protection), Chuck Gordon (Architecture), David Ingels (Communications), Mitch Lawrence (Civil), and Joe Millen (AE Contracting).
During a meeting on May 25, the interns gave a final presentation of their project for TAM mentors and leadership, as well as Winchester City Public Schools Superintendent Jason Van Heukelum, Cosmo Balio, Handley High School Teacher and father of intern Balio; Katie Lockhart – Career & Technical Education Coordinator for Winchester Public Schools.
Each student presented their portion of the project starting with Architecture, then Mechanical Engineering and Civil Engineering, discussing highlights, challenges, importance of communication among the three of them during the process, and the myriad software programs they worked with including Trace 3D, Revit, Civil 3D, Hydrographs, Infraworks, Energy Economics Calculator, and more. Most also mentioned increased confidence, flexibility, patience, planning and problem-solving abilities and even noticed an engineering mindset.
At the conclusion of the presentations, Greg Taylor, Chief of Engineering spoke up immediately and said, “I am amazed. I really am. We have a lot of really smart people in this building, and I’ve known a lot of really smart people throughout my life. All three of you have some very bright futures ahead of you. I can think back to when I was in college, probably at the junior/senior level, and it would have been very hard for me to touch the level that you guys are at right now.”
TAM’s intern program is also a positive for the local community. The elder Balio asked the students what they would say to the students back at their schools to get them interested in applying to TAM for the program, which he referred to as a ‘hidden gem,’ next year.
Ricon-Camacho said he has already spoken to friends who plan to apply for the program next year because he’s told them what a great opportunity it was. “There aren’t a lot of engineering opportunities around this area, but here we can choose different disciplines to go in to within the same organization. So it’s not going to be the same experience for everyone. Take advantage of this opportunity because it can also open your eyes to other options.”
And because of this experience, the interns have broadened their areas of interest and may be reconsidering additional areas of engineering and architecture to explore during college that they had not considered before this internship.
“As superintendent, I’d like to say that I’m so thankful for this collaboration and partnership,” said VanHeukelum. “It’s everything that we want to see happen more in schools. This is where learning really happens and the more we can get our students out of the building and experiencing real, authentic real world problems it’s good for our kids. It inspires them and gives them new aspirations.”
“After you all finish college, during college, I’d like you come back and knock on our door,” said Taylor, “We’ll still be here and if you decide you’d like to be engineers, please come back and talk to us. We would be very interested.”