Student shadows District engineers, determines his future path

Public Affairs Office
Published July 10, 2014
The Middle East District and Frederick County Public Schools collaborated on shadowing sessions so a local student could explore engineering careers.

The program fits perfectly with the USACE commitment of teaming with others to strengthen programs that inspire young people to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

William Heuser, a senior at Millbrook High School in Winchester, Va., spent one hour every other school day with engineers and other professionals at the District throughout his last semester. His schedule was developed to include the various engineering disciplines and architecture, throughout project management, engineering and construction operations divisions.

He thoroughly enjoyed the experience and knows he learned a great deal, particularly about various engineering disciplines and has realized he would like to be a mechanical engineer one day.

“I have really enjoyed my time here,” he said. “I particularly enjoyed seeing the differences between what school teaches and how things are done in the real world. Basically I think things are a lot more complicated here than in school.

“Meeting with all these professionals really helped me realize what engineering careers there are in general and gave me the opportunity to learn more about specific fields,” he said.

His experiences here coupled with engineering courses in school have convinced him that electrical engineering is not his forte. “But, mechanical engineering definitely interests and excites me,” he said. “I love problem solving and math. I’ve learned that most situations in life have a simple solution – all you have to do is apply the right formula.

“Last year, I took a mechanical engineering class, and had a team assignment where we had to design, build and test a machine that would move a ball from Point A to Point B, which was a cup,” he said. “We used forced water and tried to raise and then scrape the ball into the cup. Eighty percent of the projects failed, including ours, but we learned a lot.”

According to his father, Todd Heuser, mechanical engineer with the Transatlantic Division, Will has always been an inquisitive problem solver. “More than once, when he was two years old, we would return to the nursery after church to find that he had opened the child-proof doors and escaped while the teachers weren’t looking.”

“I think Todd and I recognized engineering capabilities in Will before he knew it,” said Shelly Heuser, Will’s mother. “He wanted to see how things worked even at an early age and taking toys apart was his specialty. Of course, this caused us many headaches along the way. But I remember Will's fascination with puzzles during his childhood years and it was simply amazing how quickly he would put a puzzle together at such a young age. He had fun putting together 100-piece puzzles.”

Will agrees, remembering that as far back as he can remember, he’s taken items apart to learn how they work.

His list of conquests includes pens, lamps, the refrigerator door, and one year, about halfway through the summer, he managed to make changes to the air conditioning system so that heat blasted the house.

Both of his parents were happy and appreciative of the time spent their son spent at the District.

“The program at (the Middle East District) has greatly increased his interest in pursuing an engineering career and a few weeks ago, he indicated he did want to be an engineer,” said Heuser’s father. “Will talks more about his day at TAM than he has ever talked about any school class. His participation in this program has absolutely been beneficial for him. It has exposed him to a vision of what the real world is like and helped him to see the type of role he can have in it.”

Because of Will’s shadowing experience with the District engineers, he has a better perspective of work. “He knows that he needs to dress differently at work than at school,” said his mother. “He experienced numerous meetings that engineers need to attend and was able to observe how people worked together in a working environment. Will looks forward to his time at the Corps. Whenever there was a delay in school, he was so disappointed when it occurred on one of his scheduled days with the Corps because that meant he would not get to attend that day. He has also said that he wished the co-op days did not have to end!”

His teaching staff agrees the program was beneficial for him.

“The job shadowing provided Will a view into a real world setting and it built his confidence,” said Marlies Mulckhuyse, Heuser’s Millbrook High School teacher. “Not only was he able to see how his course work related to the work setting, but he also learned about communications and work place expectations. In addition, being able to do this as part of his school day increased his enthusiasm for learning. He also improved his social interactions with adults.

“Will has been interested in becoming an engineer but didn’t have an opportunity to really explore what that means in terms of job opportunities and educational requirements,” Mulckhuyse said. “His experience at the Army Corps of Engineers provided him an overview of the processes that are part of engineering. Seeing first-hand what is involved made him more determined to sign up for college and continue his education.

“Will has always been positive about his experience (at the Corps). He was worried that he didn’t understand everything but spent time trying to learn about all the acronyms,” said Mulckhuyse, adding that she once found him studying the acronym handout sheet the District had provided him.

Heuser is also appreciative of the opportunity.

“This experience was great and I learned a lot,” he said. “It piqued my interest and made me want to learn more,” adding that he plans to attend two years at Lord Fairfax Community College locally before transferring into an Engineering school.