Three giggling 10-year old girls ran into the room where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District was kicking off its annual “Bring Your Child to Work Day – Inspiring the next generation towards STEM” (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). These girls became fast friends two years ago at the same event and were excited to be reunited again this year.
The girls, whose fathers work in the District’s Engineering Division, demonstrate one of the purposes of the event which is to show that STEM can be fun.
“The goal of this program is to show young girls and boys the work their parents are performing at the District and how it helps the public and possibly inspire them to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” said Jean Lau, equal employment opportunity office (EEO) specialist and STEM outreach coordinator, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District.
The program included taking the twenty five children, ages 5-13, through a variety of hands-on engaging activities organized by employees, many of which had children at the event.
The first exercise – “Engineering is Fun!” – was presented by Seth Greenwald, technical manager, Engineering Division.
In this activity the children were shown how engineering is not only about performing analytical calculations, but will also involve brainstorming activities and generating a multitude of ideas.
Greenwald demonstrated this by showing the children several images and told them to examine them creatively by seeing them unconventionally. They were then led through a drawing exercise that encouraged them to think outside of the box.
Greenwald, who told the children he has fun every day he comes to work said, “Engineering is all about having fun, solving real world problems, creating things that work well and look good and remembering to laugh out loud every day!”
The second exercise – “Construction Discoveries” – was presented by Sandra Piettro, project manager, Environmental Branch.
In this activity the children were shown there are many different types of roles engineers play including cleaning up the land to make it safe for the public.
Piettro showed the children a video of an Army Corps project site, a former military base, where many explosives were discovered underground. The video showed how the Army Corps safely removed them.
She told the children if they are ever playing in the woods or are out camping and they see a strange object they should not touch it and tell their parents.
The third exercise – “Solar Energy Presentation” – was presented by Michael Chen, lead structural engineer, Engineering Division.
In this activity the children were educated about solar power and how “Everything originates from the sun including our food and the electricity in our homes,” said Chen.
Chen showed photos of how solar power is being generated around the world and he explained how the Army Corps is also creating solar power projects.
Chen then quizzed the children about what they learned and those who gave correct answers received small solar powered toys.
The fourth exercise – “Structural Engineer Activity” – was presented by Jason Shea, project manager, Planning Division, with the assistance of his 10-year old son.
Shea said, “When I was my son’s age I decided I wanted to be an engineer. I wanted to build structures and test them to see if they would hold up.” He added that buildings can be vulnerable during storms, so it’s important that they be built strong.
Shea had the children form groups and each group was given different types of building materials -including wooden blocks, playing cards, Play-Doh and tape - and was told to use the materials to build a beach house.
When the groups were done building, Shea and his son performed a number of tests on the buildings to see if they held up. The first test was a wind test. Shea’s son, “Hurricane Timothy,”* waved a large board near each of the buildings. The next test was a wave test. Shea rolled an empty plastic bottle into the buildings several times. The last test was an earthquake test. For this the children were told to pound on their tables to shake the buildings.
The fifth exercise – “Under Pressure Challenge” – was presented by Anthony Schiano, civil team lead, Engineering Division.
In this activity the children learned that not only do buildings have to be able to stand up, but they also have to be able to support weight.
Schiano had the children form groups and each group was given a stack of paper and tape and they were told to use the materials to create a building that can withstand the weight of a stack of books placed on top of it. After Schiano distributed the materials he told the children, “You’re the engineers!”
When the groups were done building, Schiano placed a stack of books on each of the buildings to see which ones were able to handle the weight.
The last exercise – “Navigation Demonstration” – was presented by Raymond Schembri, lead civil engineer, Engineering Division.
In this exercise the children learned that one of the Army Corps major missions is making sure our waterways are safe for boat traveling.
Schembri said that the Army Corps constructs and manages a number of ways to keep the waterways safe and one of these ways is a lock and dam system.
He demonstrated this using a large clear tub of water. In the tub was a model of a lock and dam system with a boat floating in the water.
Using the model, he showed the children how a lock and dam system works. He said that if boats are traveling through a waterway and they come upon a waterfall or rapids that they need a safe way to bypass these. They can bypass it with the use of a lock and dam. He said a lock and dam system is “something like an elevator for a ship.”
A few of the presenters expressed why they felt this program is beneficial to everyone involved.
"For some reason, engineering has gotten a reputation as a profession full of unimaginative individuals. Nothing can be further from the truth,” said, Greenwald. “Engineers are creative problem solvers and inventive designers. The kids experienced that reality in this event. Some may even have been inspired to become engineers. That's beneficial to USACE and the world in general."
Shea said, “This event answers that grade school question children ask their teachers during a test, ‘When I am ever going to use this outside of school?’ This event is also personally beneficial for me because I enjoy seeing their wide eyes, smiles and hearing their curious questions; especially when one of them is my son.”
Schiano said, “Children are very impressionable and nothing is better than making a child say ‘wow that was cool.’ We want to show them the countless things that can be done with science, technology, engineering, math and what better place to show this, then where their parents actually do this type of work. The Army Corps has to be an ambassador to the next generation of engineers, because we have a bigger impact on this nation than children or even adults realize. We should always be focusing on our future, because without it there will be no tomorrow."
The Equal Employment Opportunity Office holds STEM events throughout the year and they need volunteers – If interested, stop by their office.
*Name changed to protect identity.