Wiesbaden students get peek at engineer life

Published May 12, 2014
WIESBADEN, Germany – A group of Wiesbaden Middle School students got a glimpse of engineer life recently while engaging in some hands-on demonstrations during “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day” at the Amelia Earhart Center.

The annual event, which took place April 24, is part of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District’s education and community outreach program, set up to strengthen community ties; share instructional opportunities related to science, technology, engineering and math; and promote environmental awareness. Fifty children participated in the visit, including roughly 20 with a parent employed by the district.

The agency’s Contracting Division was in charge of staging this year’s activities.

“As an engineering command, it is our responsibility to foster STEM awareness within the [Department of Defense Dependents Schools] community,” said Christine Dye, a contracting officer and Europe District Leadership Development Program Class of 2014 member who served as chief organizer.

“By the sheer nature of our mission and the composition of our workforce, we can easily demonstrate the real-life application of the disciplines of STEM. By bringing to life topics that may not interest students from a purely academic standpoint, we hope to increase STEM exposure and possibly plant a seed of interest in a STEM-related career.”

The morning began with a welcome from Lt. Col. Andy Hemphill, the district’s deputy commander, who told the students about his experience as an Army engineer and how a passion for math and science growing up drove him into the profession.

The group then headed outdoors for a K-9 exhibition by a local Pond Security detail. The security dogs showcased their ability to detect explosives and narcotics, assist in law enforcement and protect handlers.

Back inside the Amelia Earhart Theater, a pair of guest speakers gave interactive presentations on Europe District’s construction and engineering operations.

Katie Archer, a civil engineer with the district’s Consolidated Intelligence Center Project Office at Clay Kaserne, spoke about all the different countries she’s worked in – more than 30 overall and almost a dozen for the Army Corps of Engineers.

She had two volunteers help test the other children’s knowledge of personal protective equipment and highlight proper use of safety gear worn on construction sites. Archer also showed videos of the infamous 1940 Tacoma Narrows Bridge disaster in Washington and a building collapse in the Philippines to illustrate the importance of quality design measures.

Later, structural engineer Lawrence Carabajal led several students in building, loading and evaluating a wooden “Leonardo Bridge.” After linking all the planks, he asked the kids to add packs of office paper – two at a time – to increase the weight on it and gauge the structure’s applied-load capacity.

The lesson is designed to emphasize the concepts of compression and tension as they relate to force in bridge design and construction, the engineer said.

“Structural engineers are the power lifters of the engineering world because we hold things up,” he added.

When the call for assistants went out, students were eager to come down on stage and get involved in the demonstrations.

Ariel Lorts, 12, a Wiesbaden seventh-grader, was among many with their hands in the air but never got picked out of the crowd.

“I was jumping up and down – it didn’t help that I was in the back,” she joked afterward.

Ariel says she likes science, excels at math and might consider engineering in college as she gets older. The “Leonardo Bridge” exercise was her favorite part of the day.

“It was cool seeing how each bridge has to have its own different type of support and how you have to configure the tension and the compression. That way, everything equals out,” she said. “You can’t just build a bridge and have one beam and a few ropes. You actually have to balance everything out.

“I want to be able to build and design stuff, all in the same area, so I’m not just building or just designing [but] can actually do both. I like drawing out figures and then trying to test them.”

Sixth-grader Catherine McKean said she’s thought about becoming an architect someday, if not a doctor. The visit only raised her interest in engineering.

“I thought [the presentations] were really interesting,” the 12-year-old added. “I learned about the security they have and how it’s a very important thing to have if you’re going to go into construction or engineering, because you need to plan exactly what you’re doing with the design; otherwise, it’ll end up badly.”

Seeing the security dogs in action was a big hit with most students, including Lala Grounds, 14, an eighth-grader at WMS.

“It’s amazing to me how they can sniff out all the drugs and bombs,” she said.

Lala said engineering appeals to her as a possible academic and vocational pursuit. She enjoyed hearing about the opportunities available within USACE and all the places where Europe District has a footprint.

“I was interested in helping other countries get safer buildings,” she said of why she chose to spend the day with engineers, adding that Jordan and Israel are nations that fascinate her the most. “I like anything that can help people in different countries. … I learned today how they build safer bridges and more stable buildings.

“I know you have to be really smart in math [to be an engineer]. It looks pretty cool as a job because you can design stuff and then build it.”

Dye said coordinating an event of this magnitude provided a challenge but felt the experience boosted her own leadership skills as she wraps up the LDP curriculum’s final phases. In the end, however, it was all about arranging a quality program for the students of Wiesbaden Middle School, a longtime partner of Europe District.

“I think everything went well,” she said. “It was very gratifying to see the children enjoying themselves and actively participating during the presentations. I was overwhelmed by their enthusiasm, especially during the ‘Leonardo Bridge’ activity, and very impressed with the depth and complexity of their questions.”

“Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day,” formerly called “Take Your Child to Work Day,” has had different designations over the years. Founded more than two decades ago in New York by the Ms. Foundation for Women, the program was expanded to include boys in 2003. It’s held on the fourth Thursday in April every year.