The James Wood High School Career Fair marked the first community event the Middle East District has participated in for several months.
The budget sequestration of 2013, the automatic cuts to the federal government’s spending that went into effect March 1 and led to thousands of civilian employees being furloughed nationwide, also resulted in Department of the Army issuing guidance to temporarily cease support of most non-federal entity programs. The District had to decline invitations to participate in many events traditionally supported.
That guidance has since been relaxed and the District is again able to support local events, particularly those focused on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math programs, or STEM. Determined a high priority for USACE, the Corps’ STEM Strategy is to “Posture USACE as an Army leader in increasing STEM education [engage in STEM outreach; share best practices; communicate effectively], and in attracting and retaining a highly competent and diverse STEM workforce [USACE viewed as employer of choice; provide continuous learning/development].”
According to the USACE STEM site, “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recognizes the critical role that STEM education plays in enabling the U.S. to remain economic and technological leaders of the global marketplace and enabling the Departments of Defense and Army to keep our Nation secure. We are committed to teaming with others to strengthen STEM-related programs that inspire current and future generations of young people to pursue careers in STEM fields.”
The District supported the career fair on Nov. 13, with two civil engineers: Deputy Commander Maj. Chris Klein and Qing Xu.
Klein told the students that engineering was a profession for those who like to solve problems. “All kinds of problems – building stuff, Sudoku puzzles, connecting dots – provide a glimpse into the engineering mind. These are the types of problem solving issues engineers deal with. If you are strong in Math and Sciences, the engineering career field is probably for you,” he said. “Engineering is all about the math, sciences, and technology. They all tie into engineering.”
Both Klein and Xu shared personal experiences and educational tracks taken to arrive in the positions they hold today.
“I think the engineering sessions went pretty well,” said Xu, whose past engineering experience includes city planner and transportation engineer. “There weren’t many questions from the students, but they were interested in what we had to say and asked about the difference between engineering and architecture.”
“For the most part, the students were attentive and engaging, although it was disappointing that more students weren’t interested in engineering,” said Klein. “Overall more than 300 students participated in the career event. We had about 60 students total cycle through our four sessions but only some of those were genuinely interested in engineering careers.”
The importance of participating in community events and engaging students who may be considering an engineering career cannot be overlooked. “We have a national shortage of engineers,” said Klein. “So we need to get out in the community and sell engineering and the sciences. It’s important for us to tell our stories as inspiration to the next generation.”
“I believe having engineering professionals share their experiences with students who may be interested in this field is important because through what we have to say, we may help them understand details about the field, like the difference between engineering and architecture, early enough to better prepare and posture themselves for the future,” Xu said.
Note: For organizations interested in inviting our members to be guest speakers in your community event, please contact the Public Affairs Office staff at DLL-CETAM-PAO@usace.army.mil or call (540) 665-4092 or 665-3763 to coordinate.