In an effort to pique the interest of middle school students toward career preparation, the U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville partnered with Chapman Middle School to host a career day at the school Sept. 27.
It all started with an email from Chapman Middle School sixth grade teacher, Heather Cleckler to the Huntsville Center Public Affairs Office requesting help with a planning career days at the school. Cleckler, who is also a member of the Teach for America Corps, said she is always looking for new ways to reach her students and get them prepared for high school and the real world after graduation. Cleckler got Huntsville Center’s contact information from the new Team Redstone Education Outreach Catalog. The catalog gives schools information about education outreach provided by local government organizations that are available to local schools.
“I was shocked that many Chapman students did not know about colleges in Alabama and career opportunities right here in Huntsville. I believe that in middle school we are proactive on the path to college to help students not have to be so reactive in high school. As a sixth grade team, we are working to make our focus on college and career all year long,” Cleckler said. “We wanted speakers from the U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center to speak with our students about careers and the path they took to get there.”
According to Cleckler, the student population at Chapman, a Title 1 school, is more than 80 percent minority and 98 percent of the students are on free or reduced lunch. The students have little or no exposure to college or careers, and few could even name one of the colleges in Huntsville, the very city where they go to school. Cleckler thought working with the Corps on this mentoring event would serve a two-fold purpose: increase career awareness of middle school students and promoting Corps brand recognition in the minds of young people. Most importantly, they could really use the help in promote career awareness at the school.
Pat Haas, director of the Huntsville Center Chemical Demilitarization Directorate, said he believes that it’s important to have a Corps presence at these type events and is glad to have assisted. Haas, a civil engineer, told students it was a college professor who influenced him to pursue a science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM career. The teacher also took time to mentor him.
“Volunteering provides a venue to share what [Huntsville Center] is capable of and provides an opportunity to further educate children on the Center’s role in replenishing the engineering workforce,” Haas said.
“I feel it’s very important that we give back to the community. Our profession will only remain as strong as those entering the field behind us. It’s important that we help our youth develop an interest in STEM,” Haas said. “Even though STEM statistics are disheartening, participating in a mentoring activity gives Huntsville Center employees an opportunity to promote STEM awareness. I’m living proof that mentor interactions with students make a difference in career choices. It didn’t hurt that I could take cars apart and put them back together either."
Volunteer Dorothy Ray, supervisory human resource specialist in the Huntsville Center Business Management Office, also realizes the importance of Huntsville Center employees participating in educational outreach events to raise career awareness. Ray and workforce development specialist, Atidya Williams, also an employee in the Business Management Office schooled students on taking the right subjects for career preparation, college majors and careers with the Corps and federal government.
Ray said she thinks Huntsville Center is doing its part to ensure students are aware of the need for more students from all majors at the Corps.
“In our line of work the numbers indicate STEM disciplines are definitely declining. We want to come up with innovative new ways to get those students who haven’t considered an engineering career to take a look at what we have to offer, Ray said. “When our employees participate in outreach efforts within the local community, it makes Huntsville Center visible to students as a viable place for future employment.”
Promoting the awareness of the seriousness of the shortage of STEM graduates and how this shortage may affect the nation’s future is also a top priority for Haas. This is one of the ways he said he stays reminded of his beginnings, present abilities and future outlook.
“I challenge each of you to look into what the engineering career field has to offer. If I were given an opportunity to work in another career field with a higher salary, I’d stay in my current role as an engineer. I see many of you are shaking your heads because you disagree with my statement. Let me explain, I love being an engineer, and want to remain in this function for the remainder of my career,” Haas said. “The Corps is doing great things for our nation. You should consider working for us one day.”