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Posted 4/20/2015

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By JoAnne Castagna
New York District

If you look out the large windows of Public School 330 in the Borough of Queens in New York City, you can see the remaining structures from the 1964 New York State World’s Fair - such as the well-known Unisphere or massive world globe. The fair showcased man’s scientific and technological achievements and dreams for the future.

Recently, employees from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District visited the school to inform fourth graders that careers in engineering and science are within their reach. If they dream big, study and make good decisions – they can be the explorers, problem solvers and visionaries of tomorrow.

The Army Corps was there as part of their volunteer STEM Program (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) that inspires young girls and boys to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

One of these employees was Ian Pumo, civil engineer, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District. While sitting on a stage wearing multi-colored socks, in the spirit of the school’s Wacky Wednesday theme, he said that engineers are explorers who want to make a difference. They conduct experiments to see how the world works and use what they learn to solve problems.

For example, he asked the students if they have any pet fish and if they have seen the algae that build up in the fish tank. He informed them that there are engineers conducting experiments to see if algae could be used as fuel.

Pumo also said that engineers build fun things like the playgrounds many of them play on outside and also big projects and events like the World’s Fair that’s just a few miles from their school.

Engineers also have a curiosity about the world said Erwin Galloza, mechanical engineer, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District. 

“At your age I wondered about things, such as why do skyscrapers so tall didn’t fall. I was curious and studied and found out why,” said Galloza.  Galloza, who is a new Army Corps engineer from Puerto Rico, spoke some Spanish for the students that were predominantly Hispanic.  

With the help of three student volunteers, he performed a science demonstration to show how science can be fun.  He placed a lighted candle on a plate of water and enclosed the candle with a cold glass. This created an interesting vacuum effect where the water on the plate rose up the candle inside the glass.  The results of the experiment excited the students so much that they ran up to the stage where Galloza and the volunteers were standing. 

Engineers also help to make the public safe. Ralph Tinari, Deputy Chief, Construction, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District, told the students that the Army Corps performs projects that help keep the public safe. 

For example, the agency is restoring many of the beaches that were damaged by Superstorm Sandy. “These beaches are more than just for fun. They also protect lives and neighborhoods.” 

Tinari expressed that what’s also important is that engineers stay safe while working on projects and to do this they must wear protective clothing, such as hard hats, eye goggles and reflective vests. “If a project is not safe it’s not successful.” 

Tinari had one of the male students try on some of this protective clothing. Tinari then stuck out his booted foot and told the boy to “Smash my foot.” The boy stamped his foot and Tinari told the students that he didn’t feel anything because he is wearing steel toe boots that engineers are required to wear while working on projects to protect their feet. 

Lt. Col. John A. Knight, deputy commander, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District told the students that engineers are involved in everything you do to live and survive.  Engineers provide the roads we drive on, the water we drink and the clothes we wear. He said, “They also design the rides in amusement parks – that make you feel and scream!” 

Knights described the Army Corps many missions. “Could you imagine if you went to the store and there was no more Xbox!?" The students got all excited with the idea of not having their Xbox. After they settled down, Knight explained that one of the Army Corps missions is that they dredge shipping lanes so that cargo ships can come in and supply them with the products they love. 

Knight then emphasized to the students to stay in school, make smart decisions and listen to their parents and teachers. “They’ve been there and done that and have your best interest.” 

“When I was your age I was faced with an important decision that could have changed the path of my life.” If I had made a different decision, taken a different path in life, I may not be where I am today and here talking with you. You will also be faced with important decisions.”

Knight said that his son once asked him what his favorite weapon was. “Can you guess? Bazooka, shot gun, pistol?” The students yelled out various weapon names and Knight answered, “No it’s this. Your brain.”  He said while pointing to his head. 

The Army Corps visit was wrapped up with a game of “STEM Jeopardy,” carried out by Caitlin Slattery, project engineer, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District. She asked the students a series of science and engineering related questions and handed out small prizes to the students. 

Regina Lorentz, Math Staff Developer, Public School 330 said, “At our school, we strive to make our students college and career ready.  With the amount of testing now imposed on public schools, the stress students feel can sometimes overshadow the "why" behind education.” 

“Our visit from the Army Corps reminded students of the importance of persevering through math and science in order to prepare for the careers they aspire to, not just to pass a test.” 

They saw the concepts they are studying applied to real world situations and it inspired many of them to work harder in math and science.  It was also great for our students to see people with similar backgrounds from neighborhoods just like theirs succeeding with their careers.  They were also very excited to discover that one of the scientists speaks Spanish. 

“The enthusiasm of the presenters was contagious, and many of them said ‘this was the best assembly ever!’ Since the visit, I have been asked many times when the Army Corps is returning.  We hope they do."