USACE Middle East District Forms University Partnership

Transatlantic Middle East District
Published May 9, 2024
Updated: May 9, 2024
Man using virtual reality headset.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Transatlantic Middle East District (TAM) director of resource management, Dylan Benz, receives instructions during a virtual reality technology demonstration at Shenandoah University. TAM recently entered into an agreement with the University to assist with internship opportunities, promote STEM careers and increase the university’s veterans outreach.

Two people shake hands after signing a document.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Transatlantic Middle East District Commander, Col. Philip Secrist, and Shenandoah University President, Dr. Tracy Fitzsimmons, sign a memorandum of understanding between the two organizations in a ceremony held at the University in Winchester, Va. On 20 April.

Woman stands at podium giving a talk.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Transatlantic Middle East District (TAM) supervisory paralegal and Shenandoah University alumni Mary Ensogna speaks at signing ceremony for a memorandum of understanding between TAM and the University that will assist with internship opportunities, promote STEM careers and increase the university’s veterans outreach.

With their close proximity and expertise in the Middle East, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Transatlantic Middle East District (TAM) and Shenandoah University have long seemed like a natural fit for partnership but until recently have had limited interaction.

This is set to change with a new memorandum of understanding signed by University President Dr. Tracy Fitzsimmons and TAM Commander Col. Philip Secrist during a ceremony held on 29 April.

The partnership represents a win-win situation, fostering closer ties between the two organizations in and paving the way for collaborative initiatives that benefit students, professionals, and the community at large.

The agreement is slated to provide SU students with increased internship opportunities that will give  them valuable hands-on experience and exposure to real-world applications of their studies. Moreover, promoting STEM subjects aligns well with the growing demand for skilled professionals in these fields, ensuring that students are well-prepared for the workforce.

Creating a greater pool of STEM graduates was also a theme for the day as the university prepares to open its new Hub for Innovators Veterans and Entrepreneurs (HIVE) which will be the home of the school’s virtual, augmented and extended reality programs. USACE already uses VR technology in its engineering and construction processes and district personnel expressed excitement at the opportunity to have such an advanced lab in close proximity.

“They like us, are forward thinkers, ready to be trailblazers for the future ahead,” said Erick Stillman, TAM’s advanced modeling manager. “And now instead of traveling all the way down to the virtual lab at ERDC (Engineering Research and Development Center) in Mississippi, we can make a 5-minute drive to the campus and explore all the new equipment, ask questions and solve problems.”

With TAM’s  mission of providing expertise in construction and engineering support to the U.S. military and allied nation partners throughout the Middle East, Secrist noted that with its Center for Islam in the Contemporary World, the university was a natural fit with TAM’s work.

“There are so many opportunities for us to benefit from their knowledge and with over 70 years’ experience in the region, I’d like to think we’ve got a lot of insight to offer as well,” said Secrist.

Fitzsimmons, noted that the university hopes to increase its veteran’s services, continue to develop its technology programs and create a strong and diverse pool of graduates she sees USACE as a strong conduit to that.

“This partnership, which fosters the ability to create new pathways and internships for our students with the Army Corps of Engineers, is one more way we think about how we protect the future. I appreciate all that you do towards building a safe and democratic world as well as your commitment to understanding the power of diversity in your workforce,” she said during the ceremony.

Secrist noted the partnership will also help TAM with recruitment and retention.

“USACE is currently competing for the best and the brightest and with an increase in telework and remote work, that competition has only gotten stronger. The ability to hire top talent who may want to stay in the area is a huge benefit to us. Winchester is a very welcoming community and a lot of people who come here don’t want to leave.”

With the framework now in place, it will be exciting to see how TAM and Shenandoah University leverage this partnership to drive innovation, promote education, and make a positive impact in their shared community.