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Posted 3/4/2014

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By James D'Ambrosio
Public Affairs

Demonstrating a commitment to education in the sciences and celebrating National Engineers Week, which recognizes engineers’ important contributions to society, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District staff, led by Deputy District Commander Lt. Col. John A. Knight, visited The Benjamin Altman School in Lower Manhattan presenting a program on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) to nearly 130 fifth-graders in the school auditorium. Students learned important concepts in each discipline and how the Army Corps of Engineers harnesses those disciplines to serve the public through civil works projects, water-resource management, emergency response and coastal-storm risk reduction.

Lt. Col Knight opened with an overview of the District and a multimedia presentation providing a sampling of District functions ─ a helicopter rescue in New York Harbor, renovations to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and repairing damage from Hurricane Sandy. Reflecting on the event, Knight said a key aspect was effectively connecting with children. “At their age [10-11] it can be challenging,” he said, emphasizing the importance of getting students excited about science and technology through hands-on activities. He suggested elementary students ─ in addition to the day’s event ─ can get further involved in science activities through summer camps, reaching out to the Corps for a volunteer to help with a project, or by joining Boy Scouts ─ where Knight first became interested in science.


The body of the program included five presentations from District staff. Nancy Brighton, supervisory archeologist, spoke about an excavation she worked on in Lower Manhattan and walked around the auditorium displaying framed artifacts several thousand years old. Jason Shea, supervisory civil engineer, worked with a student and teacher to build small wooden structures on stilts, then illustrated how the forces of wind, water or an earthquake can cause them to collapse.

In a third presentation, Amanda Switzer, project manager and environmental scientist, spoke about wetlands and demonstrated how salt spread on roads during winter might harm the environment by having students pour salt and water onto a realistic diorama of a landscape ─ including an auto, road and plantings ─ and noting the effects.

In addition, John Beldin-Quinones, emergency manager and chief of the Readiness Unit, discussed the engineering design process (understanding a need, exploring what others are doing, brainstorming, developing a plan, testing an idea and improving design), and Xiaoming Chen, lead structural engineer, spoke about solar energy and engineering.

The event was spearheaded by the District’s Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Office, staffed by Estelle Capowski, EEO officer, and Jean Lau, EEO specialist. Ms. Capowski, whose office has been involved with STEM for several years, spoke of the event’s value: “Teachers gave assignments to go home and speak with their parents about potential careers in STEM,” adding that the program “enlightened young kids that didn’t know what a civil engineer was before our visit.” In fact, P.S. 42 Principal Rosa Casiello O’Day said she was going to speak with her son, too.


Lt Col. Knight gave closing remarks and was presented with a certificate of appreciation from Principal Rosa Casiello O’Day, recognizing the Corps’ public outreach efforts. In turn, Lt. Col. Knight presented the principal with the NY District Commander’s Certificate of Appreciation recognizing support of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ STEM Program. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as a whole, recognizes the importance of STEM education and is committed to helping students gain knowledge of and discover careers in the many branches of science.