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STEM programs connect students with District employees

Published Oct. 18, 2012
As the hustle and bustle of another school year begins, students are eager to learn about new and exciting lessons to help mold their career decisions.

After attending the "Easy as Pi" event sponsored by the Baltimore Post of the Society of American Military Engineers (SAME) last spring, some students are better equipped with what they need to do to excel in a specific field.

"The event was designed to allow students to interact with professionals and learn hands-on what career pathways are available in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)," said Greg Johnson Baltimore District Corps of Engineers Resources Management chief.  "We invited speakers to bring an activity for the students to work on to allow them to apply what they learned from the presentations."

Johnson also serves as the Scholarship and Education Committee Chair for the SAME Baltimore Post. The Baltimore Post modeled this event after a similar program that has been ongoing for more than 10 years through Penn State-York.  They are focused on reaching out to middle school students and exposing them to the range of possible career choices in math, science, and engineering.

Five school systems in the greater Baltimore area participated in the program this year.  A total of 75 students from Baltimore area schools in grades seventh and eighth were selected to attend.  Each school district was responsible for choosing 15 students to participate in the event.

"It's important to me, especially now that I have a daughter, to teach kids so they understand better what is out there in the world," said Emily Schiffmacher, Environmental and Munitions Design Center project manager for the Baltimore District.  "So many of these kids don't get a chance to see it and it's great to have the ability to reach out to the community."

One of the best ways Corps employees can give back to young scholars in the state of Maryland is to volunteer to educate them about their career field.

"I try to help whenever possible with any school activities, because it is important to help out our school systems," said Schiffmacher. "I love my job and it makes me feel great to be able to give back to the community.  It does really make a difference."

Schiffmacher is also the Baltimore Post's Student Mentoring Committee Chair.  In this position, she is responsible for planning events to visit schools and coordinates the Post's annual "Easy as Pi" event.

"Because of all the different technology available to kids these days, many are deciding what they want to be when they grow up before seventh and eighth grades," Schiffmacher said.  "We decided to come up with a program to help them investigate their options."

Due to the changing interests of students in new fields, Schiffmacher first finds speakers and then provides a list of opportunities to the schools.  The students are then asked to choose their preferences based on the number of options.

The target audience for the STEM program is students is seventh and eighth grade.  This is the age where interest is high and allows for the opportunities to take the needed classes for a STEM career early on, Schiffmacher said.

"Whatever your profession, one of the most important things we can do is giving back," Johnson said.  "Our country is in need of more professionals in scientific and engineering fields, and it is rewarding to show people that STEM career fields are fun."

Johnson has been a long-time member of SAME and believes the Scholarship and Educational Outreach Committee is a great way to give back and help encourage students to pursue careers by preparing at a young age.  Initially, the Committee focus was on college scholarships and college student mentoring. During the past ten years, the Committee has expanded focus to include high school and middle school outreach events, most notably the "Easy as Pi" signature event.

In 2008, Gov. O'Malley convened a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) task force with the aim of determining what the education department needed to implement to ensure the development of a future workforce that supported STEM related careers.

"This task force came up with seven standards of practice and along with a Federal grant received, our office began," said Rachelle Marshall, STEM Specialist, Maryland State Department of Education.  "Our purpose with STEM Education and the STEM Standards of Practice is to reflect the skills and knowledge students must master to be prepared to meet the increasing demand of the workplace where STEM skills are required.

Employees with careers in STEM related fields are needed now more than ever to promote the various opportunities offered for students to pursue.

Representatives from the Baltimore Aquarium, University of Maryland, Cabrera Services, the Maryland State Police Crime Lab, the Corps of Engineers Baltimore District, and the Department of Homeland Security volunteered as speakers for the event.

Numerous District and Baltimore Post private sectoremployees also volunteered to make sure the event was a success for all attendees to include the parents that came as chaperones.