US Army Corps of Engineers
U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center

Engineers share STEM career paths with Alabama educators

Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville Public Affairs
Published Feb. 26, 2016
Brian Spear, Engineering Directorate site development civil engineer, discusses the merits of the sUAS with educators throughout Alabama during the Alabama Community Education Association’s annual conference at the Huntsville Marriott Feb. 25.

Brian Spear, Engineering Directorate site development civil engineer, discusses the merits of the small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) with educators throughout Alabama during the Alabama Community Education Association’s annual conference at the Huntsville Marriott Feb. 25.

The number of graduates entering Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines is not adequately meeting labor market demands. So, how do we interest more students to choose STEM career fields?

We start by sparking an interest in these fields through their professors, teachers and counselors. To do that, several U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville (HNC) engineers participated in the Alabama Community Education Association’s (ACEA) annual conference at the Huntsville Marriott Feb. 25.

Karl Gullatte, Installation Support and Programs Management Directorate; John Nevels and Brian Spear, Engineering Directorate and Bruce Railey, Ordnance and Explosives Directorate, all Huntsville Center engineers, engaged more than 350 educators from throughout Alabama by discussing their career fields. 

It’s important for Huntsville Center to participate in events like these and be a positive influence in the community, said Spear, site development civil engineer.

“The educators today are teaching the citizens of the future and providing them with the information they need to shape the future we will share together,” he said. “The emphasis on STEM fields of study will be paramount to HNC, the greater Huntsville area, as well as this country in order to remain the world leader in the technology industries.”

Studies have shown that school personnel are often cited as key influences in a student’s choice of major. If a student isn’t exposed to a particular area, interest can’t develop.

Paul Morin, ACEA president and Alabama Afterschool Community Network coordinator, said the conference is a professional development requirement for educators, but this year it offered a unique opportunity to learn about STEM careers first hand and take that information back to their students.

“Last year, only 27 percent of graduating seniors expressed any type of interest in STEM disciplines, which is a problem,” he said. “It’s not only a problem for our economy and workforce development, it’s a problem for them because that is where the jobs are and where the jobs are going to be.”

Morin said educators have the ability to create an atmosphere where students can experiment and have fun and regain a sense of wonder regarding STEM disciplines.

Giving educators that ability is exactly what Nevels, explosives safety structural engineer, hoped to achieve while showing examples of his work in protective construction and how he determines the effects explosives have on structures.

“Encouraging educators ‘in the trenches’ of teaching the next generation of the workforce and giving them some real-life examples of some cool applications of the difficult subject matter they are teaching to share with their students is important,” he said. “Teachers and administrators work long hours lifting up and taking care of our greatest resource, our future, and I think it's important that we try to take care of them however we can.”

Each of the volunteers talked to the educators one-on-one after their presentations.

Railey, international operations civil engineer, enjoyed connecting with the teachers and hoped he shared the importance of their efforts in what can sometimes be a thankless job, he said.

“There is hope that we might encourage these educators, as we were encouraged during our early years,” he said. “I wish I could thank all of the teachers who saw the hope in me when I didn't see it in myself.”

Through the conference, each engineer brought his own perspective to show others the different programs offered by Huntsville Center and the significant work the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is doing both in the states and abroad.

“The importance of our future in the STEM arena and how it affects our everyday living and the progress of tomorrow depends on the work of today,” said Gullatte, special projects civil engineer. “Getting involved in outreach programs within any community is always a great opportunity to share our knowledge, experience and to plant a seed for education.”