Three high school students working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Transatlantic Middle East District (TAM) wrapped up a fall internship this week by presenting their capstone project to district leadership and staff.
The program, designed to foster an interest in pursuing a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) career, allows local high school students to explore career options while exposing them to a professional work environment with the largest public engineering organization in the world.
Previous graduates of the program have been able to come back and work for the district while they attend college and the program’s ultimate goal is to have high school intern alumni eventually return as full-time federal employees working for the district after graduating college.
Garrison Myer, one of the programs coordinators and a civil engineer with the district, said the program has gotten better each year.
“Over the last several years, we’ve expanded the number of interns we’ve been able to take,” he said. “One of the latest things we’ve done this year is have the students work on one large project collaboratively. In the past each student would choose an individual project. This year we had them work together to design one thing. That really replicates the workplace more and allows them to learn how each person contributes to a team.”
Will Hoffman, a senior at John Handley High School in Winchester, Va., said that seeing how the various disciplines interacted convinced him he’d chosen the right major.
“This really confirmed for me that I want to be a mechanical engineer,” he said.
Leah Kreeb, a senior at Clarke County High School in Berryville, Va. and the lone architect intern, said the communication was a challenge on the project since they didn’t all go to the same school but that it was probably representative of most workplaces.
Throughout the interns’ presentation, the importance of communication was a common theme, something the district’s director of programs, Tom Waters emphasized at the end.
“We’ve got billions of dollars’ worth of construction projects across the Middle East and even with all the things that could possibly go wrong, if we’re having an issue with a project, you can usually trace it back to communication,” he said.
The project the interns worked on was designing a nature education center to be built in Frederick County, VA. They used local building codes as guidance. Hoffman did the mechanical engineering work on the project, Kreeb designed the building and Juliette Schaefer, also a senior at Handley, handled the civil engineering portion of the design to ensure the building complied with the criteria they were given.
Schafer said that when she first began the program, she was frustrated when she felt like she didn’t know what she was doing but that mentorship from district engineers helped her see it for the learning opportunity it was.
“Garrison reassured me I wasn’t expected to know everything, and that helped me move past my frustration and work focused on the project instead of what I didn’t know,” she said.
All three students will attend college next fall with Hoffman and Schaefer intending to major in mechanical and civil engineering respectively. Kreeb said the program solidified her desire to be an architect.
Col. Philip Secrist, TAM’s commander, said the students left a very positive impression on him.
“I’d hire them tomorrow if I could,” he said.
Schaefer said the best part of the program was that she saw it as more than just learning about engineering.
“I feel like we not only learned engineering skills, but real life skills.”