Engineers encourage next generation of Mathletes

Middle East District
Published Feb. 23, 2016

A team of volunteers from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Middle East District assisted with the MATHCOUNTS regional competition Feb. 19 at Admiral Richard E. Byrd Middle School in Winchester, Va.

MATHCOUNTS is a math enrichment, coaching and competition program for middle school students, with chapters in all 50 states. Students compete at the local, state and national levels to win scholarships and prizes. Competitions are conducted by local volunteers

Most of the 10 MED volunteers checked the students’ answers against answer keys, while Elizabeth Prusch, a structural engineer for the Middle East District, assisted with proctoring the exams.

Prusch has volunteered at MATHCOUNTS events for several years running and leads the District’s efforts to participate.  

“I’ve coordinated the volunteers for the last few years,” she said. “I do it because I wish I had done these kinds of things when I was growing up. I think it’s really important to encourage STEM careers.”

The competition consisted of three rounds: the sprint round required students to answer 30 questions in 40 minutes with no calculator; the target round required students to answer two questions in six minutes, and the team round required students, in teams of four, to answer 10 questions in 20 minutes.

More than 40 students from six area middle schools, who had been preparing for the event since September, competed Saturday. Some gathered weekly to practice after school, and some spent 20 minutes during their homeroom time each morning practicing with their coach. Winners will go on to the state competitions later this year.

Bob Thomas, another District structural engineer, estimates that he has volunteered at the competition seven or eight times through the years.

“These are the best and the brightest students,” he said. “I like encouraging them to enjoy math and push their potential. It’s also a good way to increase their school spirit.”

Ralph Hensley, the District’s executive officer, was the guest speaker at the event. He praised the students’ efforts and enthusiasm.

“When I was your age, I thought I would never use the math I was learning,” he said. “But I found out I was wrong. I use math skills every day, no matter what I’m doing. I can see that everybody here believes that math is important. You won’t have to learn that the hard way.”