Local students experience Science, Technology, Engineering and Math careers up close

U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville
Published May 1, 2015
Roderick Bridgeman, chief, Mechanical Engineering Branch explains blueprints during mentoring session April 23.

Roderick Bridgeman, chief, Mechanical Engineering Branch explains blueprints during mentoring session April 23.

(L to R) Arthur Martin,III. chief, Military Integration Division, Michael Farris and Zane Oligee pose for a team photo during mentoring session April 17.

(L to R) Arthur Martin,III. chief, Military Integration Division, Michael Farris and Zane Oligee pose for a team photo during mentoring session April 17.

Two students from Limestone County School District's Career Technical Center shadowed Huntsville Center engineers in a three session mentoring activity to gain an understanding of engineering careers within the federal government.

Seniors Michael Farris, Elkmont High School and Zane Oligee, Clements High School, spent time with engineers from the Installation Support and Programs Management and Engineering directorates and learned more about engineering and project management career fields.

The idea for the mentoring activity came from Limestone County School District's gifted education instructor, Monica McConnell. She said she wanted to provide an opportunity for the students to see what engineers do and develop working relationship with the mentors. According to McConnell, the students got what she wanted and then some during their time they spent at the organization.

"I was thrilled to have my students in the senior Career Mentorship Program take part in a mini internship experience with the Army Corps of Engineers,” McConnell said. “This program involves students doing extensive career research and then choosing a professional to work with for a period of time. It's also somewhat more in-depth than the typical job shadowing platform because the student is with the mentor for a longer period of time and is attempting to develop a relationship with the professional. All students in this program are college bound, and most have received several scholarship offers before any consideration is given to participate in the program. The professions vary from year-to-year. Zane and Michael are four-year members of our school’s First Robotics team, and both are highly interested in becoming engineers. This experience further enhanced that interest.”

Huntsville Center mentors allowed the students to accompany them as they performed their engineering duties. The students got a chance to see engineering professionals at work providing real engineering solutions. They visited a test range on Redstone Arsenal and reviewed engineering blueprints with the Utility Monitoring and Control Systems and Mechanical Engineering branch personnel, respectively.

Mentors were Roderick Bridgeman, Jeff Coulston, Amos Bryant, Todd DuVernay, Steve Willoughby, Stephen Legate, Charles Malone, Juan Pace, Daniel Shepard and Josh Umphrey, Engineering Directorate; Jason Adams, Dennis Bacon, Anthony Gibson, Robert Mackey, Wesley Malone, Arthur Martin, III., Chris Shepherd and Patrick Stone, ISPM Directorate.

The students also got a chance to talk with Huntsville Center's senior leaders and the Center's Business Management Office staff. Lt. Col. Kendall Bergmann, deputy commander, greeted the students upon arrival at Huntsville Center and discussed the various military and civilian engineering career fields and Huntsville Center's role within USACE. Boyce Ross, director of Engineering, gave them a snapshot of his directorate’s engineering model and opportunities for student employment; and Dan Heinzelman, director of Business Management, and Dorothy Tiller, chief, Human Capital Management Office, talked with students about Army and civilian engineering career fields, STEM careers within the federal government and the Pathways Intern Program.

The mentoring also focused on leadership. During the April 23 mentoring session, the students worked with Engineering Directorate's Architectural Branch staff to set up STEM stations for the organization's Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day. The students also assisted the Center's ISPM Energy Team with a kite flying activity to support the event.

As part of the mentoring, Farris and Oligee sat down with Huntsville Center Commander, Col. Robert Ruch, to discuss what the internship/mentoring meant for them. Ruch said he wanted to learn how well things went and gain some insight on out how the team can improve on future mentoring opportunities. Ruch also discussed the USACE mission and its role as the nation's engineers.

"The students provided me very positive remarks during their out brief. They seemed to learn a lot about the different engineering careers here and the great work that comes out of our organization," Ruch said. “We have some very robust programs going on right now so I'm happy our folks took time from their busy schedules to help mentor these students. This is just another great example of how Huntsville Center is finding innovative new ways to raise awareness on STEM careers. I hope we can do this again."

McConnell said the students told her their experience at the Corps was one of the most rewarding projects they completed during high school.

But, perhaps Hamilton and Oligee said it best when they commented on their individual experiences.

"Huntsville has some great technical people. I learned a lot about engineering from both directorates. I really enjoyed talking with Mr. Martin, from the ISPM staff. He gave me some great ideas on how I can get experience as a student before graduating from college. He told me how the Army and the Corps is short on students entering STEM careers right now. He told me I'm needed to fill slots for those who are retiring from government service. I really didn't know the government hires students like me. He also told me about how project management works. I didn't know engineers work as project managers too. I learned a lot from both teams. But, having a good grasp of what other technical careers are out there is very beneficial to me," Farris said.

"I have always known I want to become a mechanical engineer. However, I never got a chance to see what real mechanical engineers do in the workplace. I can't explain how it felt when Mr. Bridgeman took out a set of blueprints and began to discuss a real project with us. He even allowed me to provide my opinion. I'm really impressed. Now I know for sure I will become a mechanical engineer like him one day," Oligee said.

Farris and Oligee plan to pursue undergraduate degrees in engineering later this fall at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and Auburn University, respectively.